The World Road Running Championships in Riga will see the first-ever global champions crowned in the mile but the event has a long and illustrious history
Just after midday on Sunday (Oct 1), Faith Kipyegon and some of the world’s best middle-distance runners will gather near the Latvian Museum of Art in Riga to battle for inaugural world road mile titles. Around four minutes later they will finish at the city’s picturesque City Canal and a new chapter in the history of athletics will be underway.
Whereas Riga will witness the first global championship for the event, the road mile has a long history. For many years athletes have raced over the classic distance of 1609 metres on streets all over the planet although variations in terrain have largely made the compilation of national and world records pointless.
In the run-up to Riga, World Athletics has moved quickly this year to ratify recent marks set by Sam Prakl (4:01.21) and Nikki Hiltz (4:27.97) as official world records, which means athletes in Riga have something to shoot at. With the 70th anniversary of Sir Roger Bannister’s first sub-four-minute mile on the track looming in 2024, too, it is ideal timing to introduce a mile to a World Road Running Championships that also includes 5km and half-marathon.
The 1980s saw an explosion of road miles. Most famously of all, the 5th Avenue Mile in New York City attracted many of the world’s greatest middle-distance runners.
Sydney Maree ran 3:47.6 to win the first 5th Ave Mile in 1981 and amazingly it is still the course record 42 years later despite Josh Kerr almost taking it down this year when he clocked 3:47.9.
Laura Muir holds the women’s course record, meanwhile, with 4:14.8 with winners over the years including Nick Willis, Jenny Simpson, Jake Wightman, Paula Radcliffe, Wendy Sly and Craig Mottram.
Jemma Reekie won the 2023 women’s title to make it a Scottish double with Kerr, whereas the race’s sponsors over the years have ranged from Pepsi, Mercedes-Benz and even Donald Trump to the current sponsor New Balance.
A downhill road mile on Queen Street in Auckland in 1983 was set up to see if athletes could break the 3:30 barrier for the mile. They did, too, with Mike Boit of Kenya clocking 3:27.8 from Steve Scott of the United States.
There have also been elite miles over the years in places like Boston in the United States and Waikiki in Hawaii, with Neil Gourley…