Alan Duncan Gordon, b. Bolsover, Derbyshire, 21 September 1932; d. 2014. Scottish miler present at some of the great moments in athletics history.

Alan Gordon remains a little-known and underrated talent of middle-distance running in the 1950s but, along with Graham Everett and Mike Berisford, he led the attempts to become the first Scot to break 4 minutes for the mile. Oxford University Achilles Club member Gordon (whose father hailed from Huntly), though, was present as part of the supporting cast of runners at some of the great moments in athletics history.


As Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four minute mile in history, Gordon was there. The occasion was the AAA v Oxford University at Iffley Road, Oxford, on 6th May 1954, at six o’clock in the evening, when the runners marshalled before the starter for the one mile race. It was noticeable that for fully a quarter of an hour the wind had fallen to almost nothing. In the distance a flag topping a square tower hung desultorily flapping, when only a short time before it had striven frantically to tear itself from its moorings. The runners were lined up – for the University, G.F. Dole and T.N. Miller, of University College, and Alan Duncan Gordon, a 21-year-old first year student from Magdalen; for the A.A.A., R.G. Bannister, C.J. Chataway and C.W. Brasher, all of Achilles Club, all internationals, and W.T. Hulatt of Alfreton, the Northern Counties champion.


After a false start, the race got underway. As Brasher tore into the lead, Chataway and Bannister at his heels, the crowd sensed quickly that something special had been planned, the three athletes working together. As Brasher faded on lap three, Chataway swept past with Bannister in his wake. Chataway weakened with 220 to go and Roger Bannister began his last, long pull to the tape, memorably breaking the tape in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, Chataway second in 4:07.2, Hulatt third in 4:16.0. Chaos followed, and places 4-6 were disputed and not timed as the crowd rushed the track, but Gordon insists that he, in 4th, Dole and Brasher all pushed through the crowds and finished in that order.


The start of the race on 6 May 1954 - Alan Gordon is third from right
The start of the race on 6 May 1954 - Alan Gordon is third from right

When Derek Ibbotson erased John Landy’s world mile record in 1957, Gordon was there.  At the White City on Friday, 19 July, the most keenly anticipated event in the London v New York match was the invitation mile. Mike Blagrove dashed into the lead and set what might have been expected to be a suicidal pace: 440 in 55.3, 880 in 1:55.8. Then the Czech Stanislav Jungwirth went to the front and the field bunched up, with Jungwirth leading at the ¾ mile mark in 3 minutes dead, with Ibbotson on his heels in 3:00.3. Entering the back straight for the final time, Ibbotson dashed into the lead and with his powerful stride and driving arms, went all the way for home, crossing the line in 3:57.2 for a new world record, Ireland’s Ronald Delany 2nd in 3:58.8, Jungwirth 3rd in 3:59.1, with Alan Gordon 6th in a career best 4:03.4. At that time he had run in more sub 4 minute mile runs, as pacemaker and competitor, than anyone else but without ever beating the 4 minute barrier himself.


In between these two momentous events, Gordon had been improving each year. In 1955, he finished the season ranked 6th in Britain at 1500 (3:48.6) and 11th at the mile (4:07.9), improving the next year to 3:46.4, finishing 4th in a AAA floodlit meeting, sharing the same time as 3rd-placed Chataway, and 4:06.2 when setting new record figures for the Oxford v Cambridge varsity match. Both these performances would have been recognised as Scottish records under today’s criteria, as would his 4:03.4 behind Ibbotson, and a 3:45.4 in his debut for Britain v Poland later in 1957, but according to the rules of the time, his times were not recognised as he had been born outside Scotland and the performances were set outwith Scotland.


He ran 5th behind winner Graham Everett at the 1958 AAA Championships and was selected for the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff that year, but he disappointed with a time of 4:10.77 in his heat and was eliminated. That same year, he set personal bests at higher distances, running 5:13.2 for 2000 metres and 8:48.4 for 2 Miles.


An enthusiastic runner, Gordon became a successful businessman, managing his own food consultancy.

Event Performance Place Date
1000 metres 2:22.1 Malmo, Sweden 4 September 1956
1500 metres 3:45.4 Warsaw, Poland 6 September 1957
One mile  4:03.4 White City, London 19 July 1957
2000 metres 5:13.2 Tourcoing, France 11 May 1958
3000 metres 8:17.4 White City, London 25 September 1957
2 miles 8:48.4 White City, London 4 August 1958
Year Perf Year Perf Year Perf
1955 3:48.6 1956 3:46.4 1957 3:45.4
1958 3:51.0 1959 3:47.8    
1954 4:13.8 1955 4:07.9 1956  4:06.2 
1957 4:03.4 1958 4:06.2 1959 4:06.0 
Year Event Pos Perf Place
1958 One mile 4, heat 3 4:10.77 Cardiff (WAL)
Year Opponents Events Pos Performance
1957 Poland 1500 metres 3 3:45.4
1957 West Germany 1500 metres 4 3:48.0
Event Perf Place Date Until
1500 metres 3:46.4 White City, London 12 Sept 1956 3 July 1957 
1500 metres 3:45.4 Warsaw, Poland 6 Sept 1957 13 August 1960 
One mile 4:06.2 White City, London 7 April 1956 15 June 1957
One mile 4:03.4 White City, London 19 July 1957 16 August 1960 
 not eligible as Scottish records under the rules at the time as set outside Scotland



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