Sub-4 Reunion

Sub-4 Reunion brings Oregon runners back together

By Kylee O’Connor

Oregon Track Club board member Todd Bosworth has had the idea of a Sub-4 Reunion in the back of his mind for over 20 years. It wasn’t until the past few months that his idea finally came together and culminated into an event for the public to meet and hear from the legendary milers from Bill Bowerman’s era.

“Living in Eugene for 35 years, I’ve met a lot of people who are sub-4 minute milers,” Bosworth said. “A lot of people who you never would have believed were at the time, and the more you meet, the more you’re amazed of what they’ve done. Then, in the last couple of years I’ve thought about it more and more… So, I started making some calls to those guys to see if they were interested in it, and they all seemed very excited about it.”

Fans, media and athletes of all ages came to the John E. Jaqua Center on Friday for the Sub-4 reunion that was a fundraiser for OTC. Nine of  Bowerman’s 10 living sub-4 milers made the trip to Eugene for this event, put on by Bosworth. (The 11th sub-4 miler is the late Steve Prefontaine.)

Wade Bell, a 3 minutes 59.8 seconds Oregon miler who is still living in Eugene today, enjoyed meeting up with his old teammates but said that these reunions happen more often than one might think.

“All these guys are great guys—I’ve met with them, we’ve gotten together,” Bell said. “Probably over the last 25 years, we’ve met together numerous times—that’s not uncommon.”

Although this group of guys get together more often than not, this event still acted as a good platform for the community and all track fans alike to meet these men who have achieved such a remarkable accomplishment. Two other sub-4 milers, OTC Elite’s Andrew Wheating and Tom Farrell, moderated a panel discussion with the men.

Eight of the nine sub-4 milers who attended the event live in the northwest, so their trek to the Oregon campus wasn’t too far. For 3:59.4 miler Arne Kvalheim, the trip was a bit more extensive. Kvalheim lives in Norway, but when he first heard news of the event, he cleared his schedule and made the 4,700-mile trip to Eugene.

“I think it was a great experience,” Kvalheim said. “I really enjoyed it a lot.”

His teammate, Dave Wilborn, loved seeing his former teammates and hearing their stories. “It was a tremendous success,” Wilborn said. “There were some stories I hadn’t even heard, so that was great. It was fantastic.”

With the success of this year’s Sub-4 Mile Reunion, it could eventually become an annual event.

“I’ll take a pulse and see what people think,” Bosworth said. “If these guys are around and want to do it again next year, then we’d be happy to do it again.”

A slice of Oregon track history: Sub-4 Reunion

The first thing students do in my “track class,” before they ever show up at Hayward Field or even in the classroom, is to read Tom Jordan’s biography of Steve Prefontaine.

If you’re going to cover the big meets at Hayward — and, for that matter, if you’re any student at the University of Oregon with an interest in sports journalism — you need to know the history of this place. That doesn’t start with Pre, of course, but his story is a gateway into why this place is known as Tracktown USA. And once Pre has grabbed everyone’s attention — that’s not difficult, by the way — we move on to excerpts from Kenny Moore’s Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, which gives a broader picture.

So my students were ready when we learned that the Oregon Track Club was planning a Sub 4 Reunion to honor the 10 runners who broke the 4-minute barrier in the mile while running for Bill Bowerman between 1956 and 1970.

It’s a big track weekend here in Eugene. Before the Prefontaine Classic — the best international track meet in the U.S. (most years), run by Jordan, now the meet director — starts Friday night with its traditional, free Distance Night, OTC will relive a big piece of Oregon track history with its reunion event at the Jaqua Center. You can prep for the reunion by clicking here for brief interviews with nine of the 10 men who broke the 4-minute barrier under Bill Bowerman. My students loved chatting with the athletes. We hope you’ll enjoy these highlights from their interviews.

And feel free to check back here or at our Twitter account. The SOJC Track Bureau will cover the reunion tonight, and we’ll have extensive coverage from the Prefontaine Classic: an individual story on every event, from the Diamond League races to the high-school events. Essentially, this weekend is our final exam. It’s just a fun one.

 

 

 

Dyrol Burleson

3:58.6

April 23, 1960, Eugene

On the race: “I only got under 4 because of Ernie Cunliffe of Stanford,” Burleson said. “He and I were close friends, and he came out of the start on fire. I had to run fast to just stay with him at the start. I truly give him tons of credit for my time.” Without a fancy scoreboard, Burleson didn’t automatically know his time.

On Bowerman: Burleson received the first track scholarship Bowerman had ever given. Bowerman had been in contact since Burleson’s junior year of high school, leaving workout routines written in green pen on yellow paper. Burleson’s proudest moment is that after receiving the scholarship he thought, “OK, he gave me a full ride. I am never going to lose a race for him. My plaque in the Oregon Hall of Fame says that I never lost a race for Bill.”

On his life now: Heart problems have affected his ability to attend track events, including this week’s Pre Classic and this summer’s Olympic Trials. He calls himself “the ultimate track spectator, living vicariously through the sport.” His favorite athletes are former Duck Joaquim Cruz and current Duck Edward Cheserek. “I get more excited watching races now than in some of my own races.”

 

Wade Bell

3:59.8

June 2, 1966, Eugene

On the race: Between 6,000 and 8,000 people were at the Oregon Twilight Meet for the race. Bell doesn’t remember the other athletes, but he remembered that everyone was going for the milestone. The splits were 59, 1:59 and 2:59. Bell held the lead until the backstretch. Then everyone sprinted for the finish and had to wait because hand-timers had to figure out the results. Bell finished third. “I didn’t know whether I had made it or not when I came off the turn.”

On Bowerman: Bell’s goal, for years, had been to run a sub-4 mile. “Bill Bowerman had coached more sub-4 minute milers than any other individual in the state. I thought I had the best chance to run a sub-4 minute mile by coming to the University of Oregon and running in this environment with all these great milers that were here.”

On his life now: Bell still lives in Eugene, where he met his wife and raised his four children. He’s a partner at accounting firm Bell and Morgan LLC. He jogged regularly until two and a half years ago, when he changed his physical activity to biking because he had run for so many years. Then, he “almost froze to death,” so he went to a stationary bike. He found that very boring until his daughter bought him an MP3 player, and now he loves listening to books as he rides.

Arne Kvalheim

3:59.4

May 6, 1967, Corvallis

On the race: Kvalheim didn’t head into the dual meet with Oregon State intending to break the barrier; he was more concerned about getting points for his team. It was “just the way the race went.” It was slow for the first 800, about 2:03 or 2:04, and it just got faster.

On Bowerman: Kvalheim didn’t want to share specific memories, but he said he has lots of great ones. He considers Bowerman his “mentor and coach.”

His life today: He is a retired businessman living in his native Norway, and he still enjoys running. He makes an effort to run every day. His favorite part of running was the friendships he made.

Steve Savage

3:59.2

June 5, 1970, Eugene

On the race: The only time Savage broke four minutes in the mile was in front of a home crowd at Hayward at the Twilight Invitational, the day before his 22nd birthday. He remembers the exact splits of the race: 60, 60, 61, and then a 58 the last lap. Five men broke four minutes that day, including Steve Prefontaine, who beat the standard for the first time. Savage was more of a steeplechaser than a miler. He had placed second at nationals in the steeplechase the year before.

On Bowerman: Savage mostly trained under Dellinger during his time at Oregon, but it was Bowerman who wrote and planned the workouts. Savage does specifically remember a certain month when he personally upped his mileage from 350 miles a month to 400 miles a month and inevitability ended up running slower. Bowerman was not happy with him after this. Bowerman was also not happy with him for having a girlfriend.

On his life now: Savage ran a couple of races in Munich after graduating. He married his girlfriend (whom he had met in Bean East). He had wanted to keep running until his mid-30s, but had to work and raise a family and it became too much for him. He doesn’t run anymore. “I think my Achilles would explode,” he said. He worked in sales most of his life and is retired now. He is still a track fan and goes to a few meets every year.

 

Dave Wilborn

3:56.2

June 23, 1967, Bakersfield, California

On the race: Wilborn said he doesn’t vividly remember the first half of the race, but does remember the end. With 300 meters to go, realizing that he was in good position and on good pace, he started to kick. He started the final stretch in second place but was eventually caught with two steps to go. He took third.

On Bowerman: The coach was as intense as he was a practical joker. Wilborn made sure to point out that all the stories about Bowerman peeing on guys in the shower or throwing smoking hot keys on guys in the sauna were true. He also said he once saw Bowerman kick a guy out of a workout because he had a beard. Bowerman apparently didn’t like beards. Wilborn’s favorite memory of Bowerman, however, came after a race he didn’t run well. Bowerman put his arm around Wilborn’s shoulder and said, “If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life, you’re a lucky guy.”

On his life now: Wilborn is retired and mainly buys and resells books on the internet. He said he never had a true “career,” but more a variety of jobs that were related to biology in some way. After an ACL surgery, he no longer runs, but he is an avid biker. On his 70th birthday he ventured out on 200-mile bike ride, simply because it was a life goal. It took him all day.

 

Jim Grelle

3:59.9

April 28, 1962, Walnut, California

On the race: At the time of the race, Grelle was living in Los Angeles, running for the L.A. Track Club under the famous Hungarian track coach Mihály Iglói. He moved to L.A. for four years after graduating from Oregon. “With the warm rain in L.A.,” Grelle said, contrasting it to Eugene, “you didn’t mind getting wet.” Grelle doesn’t remember much about the actual race, but he does remember his response to learning he ran a sub-four: “I think I can go faster.” And in 1965, he did, setting the U.S. record in the mile: 3:55.40. It stood for just nine days.

On Bowerman: Though Grelle didn’t run his 4-minute mile under Bowerman, he still remembers him as “ a very good coach. [He] knew when to have people in the best shape. He didn’t worry about races you won or lost in March,” Grelle said. “All my best races, the whole four years of college, were at the national championships.”

Part of practices at Oregon consisted of the team making the trip to the Florence to run on the sand dunes. “We learned that from the Australians,” Grelle said. “The best runner in the world was from Australia and he used to run the sand dunes, and that’s probably why we were doing it.”

On his life now: Two years ago, Grelle moved back to his native Portland to be closer to good hospitals and near friends. His daily routine includes a walk and playing Wii Fit, and he’s part of a weekly tennis group. One of Grelle’s favorite weekly routines is meeting with a group of former runners and coaches “about my age and a little bit younger” for coffee. The group meets on Saturday mornings and conversation generally revolves around track and running. Grelle’s go-to drink is a latte.

 

Keith Forman

3:58.3

May 26, 1962, Modesto, California

On the race: Forman said he “didn’t expect to win that day or to run very fast,” but he did just that. “I didn’t feel tired in that race until maybe 10 yards to the finish line,” Forman said with a laugh. Bowerman had told Forman to stay with the pack until the last lap then to kick, and remembers hearing 3:02 at the third-lap mark. “I could tell that if I ran that last lap fast enough,” Forman said, “it was going to be a sub-4 mile.”

Rounding the first corner on the last lap, Forman looked backed over his shoulder to see how he was faring. “I felt so good going down the back stretch that I started to kick a little early, which sometimes can be a mistake,” Forman said. “But in this case, it wasn’t.”

On Bowerman: Forman referenced Kenny Moore’s book Bowerman and the Men of Oregon as one the most accurate representations of what it was like to run for Bowerman. Forman joked at a line he often hears from other runners who say “if it wasn’t for Bowerman, I wouldn’t have run fast,’ but if it wasn’t for Bowerman, I probably wouldn’t have run at all. I really don’t believe that had I gone to school somewhere else and been under a different coach that I ever would have been as successful as I was with him.”

On his life now: Forman says his running days are “long gone,” but he walks. His wife still works as a physician, so he considers himself a “house husband.” But Forman’s main hobby is fly fishing. He practices casting daily, and he goes on a monthly fishing trip. “I actually learned when I was in college,” Forman said. “There was a trail out near Bowerman’s house that led to the McKenzie River, and it was his son actually, Jay Bowerman, kind of got me into fly fishing way back when — right in front of Bowerman’s house.”

 

Roscoe Devine

3:59.1

June 2, 1966, Eugene

On the race: Divine remembers running under four minutes several times during his time at Oregon. His first time came as an 18-year-old freshman in the inaugural Oregon Twilight Meet, which was organized to help teammate Bob Woodell with expenses relating to his broken back. When he crossed the line in 3:59.1, Divine was the second-youngest sub-4 miler. “It was kind of like climbing Mount Everest,” he said. “Once one guy did it, people started doing it. They thought it was kind of a human barrier and it turned out that it wasn’t.”

On Bowerman: The coach’s focus was on winning the race, not time. “Running under 4 minutes was what it took to win some of them,” Divine said. Divine said Bowerman’s workouts could be incredibly intense, often pushing Divine to his limits. That would quickly be followed by a lighter workout. “He believed in rest as much as working hard,” Devine said. But it was that intensity that allowed him to break through.

On his life now: Divine worked in the lumber business for 15 years. He still works, running a temporary personnel business. He also worked in commercial real estate, but joked that he’s getting ready to retire as he approaches 70 years old. He loves to work, though. He regularly attends track meets and football games while living in the Eugene-Springfield area.

 

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