It's always been so thrilling to watch an indoor track meet - the competition reminding me of an old-fashioned roller derby with all the pushing and shoving. The tighter turns, shorter straights, and smaller ovals are a perfect recipe for disaster, the challenge to survive often making fast times difficult.
In March of 1963 Tom O'Hara was the first collegiate runner to break the 4-minute barrier indoors, the Loyola Rambler clocking a 3:59.4 for the mile in New York. Just over a year later, he broke the world indoor record for a fifth time with a fine 3:56.4 — a collegiate mark he held until 1974.
In that era of the Beatles and bobby socks you could count on your fingers and toes the number of athletes who had broken 4:00 in the mile - O'Hara the first college student to get it done on a board track.
Dave Patrick of Villanova was the second one - breaking it in 1967.
In 1974, North Carolina's Tony Waldrop ran 3:55.0 and took down O'Hara's indoor collegiate mark, Don Paige of Villanova doing one better in 1980 with an impressive 3:54.22. He was the tenth college runner accomplish it undercover.
It wasn't until 1991 that twenty-five collegiate runners had broken the vaunted mile barrier indoors, and in 2004 we finally had fifty under the revered mark. What took so long?
The 2023 TFRRS list has ninety-five DI collegiate athletes with a mile time which starts with a three - DII has five athletes and DIII with one athlete (Ryan Wilson - MIT) who turned in a 3:55.29. In one weekend this winter there were fifty-three (collegiate & pro) who broke four!
Wow, it took 41 years to get fifty - now that was accomplished in one weekend!
The DI qualifying mark in the mile has become so tough that right now only a 3:55.63 will get into the NCAA Meet. So the other seventy-nine are, as my father would have said not as politely - SOL.
I contacted Eddie Slowikowski, a Loyola runner who joined Tom O'Hara's prestigious club in 1990 - the 23rd collegiate to do it indoors, and asked him what he thought of these performances.
Races "...are manufactured to break this barrier, and obviously the shoes, tracks, and the set-up paces are huge advantages, and make it much easier to do this."
So my question is - does it really matter anymore? Has it lost the prestige? Should we ignore the accomplishment? Ho hum. When is an exclusive club no longer exclusive?
In the words of Groucho Marx -
"I refuse to join any club that will have me as a member."
Maybe its time to start a new club - sub 3:50?