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The Landy Era: From Nowhere to the Top of the World (Soft Cover)

By Len Johnson

World-class athletics was something that happened overseas, not in Australia.

And then, on 13 December 1952, John Landy ran a mile at Melbourne s Olympic Park in four minutes 2.1 seconds. In those few minutes he re-ignited the race for the sub-four minute mile and inspired a generation of Australian athletes to challenge the world at distances from 880 yards to the marathon.

Urged on by influential coaches Percy Cerutty and Franz Stampfl, Landy and his distance-running mates including Les Perry, Don Macmillan, Dave Stephens, Al Lawrence, Dave Power, Albie Thomas, Herb Elliott, Ron Clarke, Ralph Doubell and Derek Clayton brought Australia international fame and success on the track, including Olympic gold.

In a few short years, Landy led Australia from nowhere to the top of the world.

 

About the author

Len Johnson has been the Melbourne Age athletics writer for over 20 years, covering five Olympics, ten world championships and five Commonwealth Games. He is also a former national-class distance runner.

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The Landy Era – a few thoughts

This book had to be written. The significance of John Landy can hardly be overemphasised – for Australian running, for Australian sport in general and for Australia’s place in the world. That’s a big call. Read the book and you’ll see what I mean. Landy himself was critical in shaping those astonishing four years from 1952 to 56, but the achievements of some of the other protagonists of the era are truly wonderful as well; thank goodness they have been chronicled in this book. Dave Stevens broke Zatopek’s world 6-mile record in January 1956 (and would have taken the 10,000 as well had he run the extra lap). How many people know that? The world’s best distance runners visited Australia during this period and were soundly beaten. Truly remarkable. It was standing-room only meet after meet at Olympic Park when Landy was gunning for a sub-4-minute-mile. Australians couldn’t get enough of him. Papers had him on the front page here and in the UK and America as he vied with Bannister and Santee to be the first under that barrier. Landy led the Aussie distance success story; he was the poster boy. But Stephens, Les Perry, Don McMillan, Neill Robbins, Geoff Warren, Al Lawrence, Alby Thomas, Dave Power, Jim Bailey, Merv Lincoln, Ron Clarke and others made up the Landy Era cast. And they were as good as anybody - literally at the “top of the world”. This book also sketches the story of Australian distance running before the 1950s. Finally there’s a surprisingly detailed account of Herb Elliott’s career which emerged immediately after the Landy Era, and would have overlapped with it, had Elliott not broken his foot in 1956. Lincoln, Thomas, Power spanned both eras. Clarke retired until the early sixties before establishing himself as the dominant distance runner of the decade. As for Australia’s place in the world: Landy’s exploits in northern Europe, his reputation in Britain and his north American performances put him front and centre. His ill-fated US tour in early 1956 probably compromised his Olympic prospects but it cemented his reputation in the US and really focussed the northern hemisphere’s attention on Melbourne and the forthcoming Olympics. The book is well illustrated. My favourite photo is the one on the back cover. Facts and figures are there but they don’t interrupt the book’s very readable prose style. As the story unfolds it becomes increasingly evident that this was truly a golden period in Australian sport. John Gilbert