Examining Whether Anyone Will Break 4 In The Mile In 2019

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Breaking 4-minutes in the mile seemed impossible for any high school boy for a long time, and then it happened in succession for three straight years in the mid 60s. 

That breakthrough, however, didn't last. 

It would take over three decades for it to happen again at the high school level before Alan Webb came along in 2001. But again, the Virginia native's singular success wasn't a broader theme. 

Another decade came before we witnessed it again with Lukas Verzbicas in 2011. Then the high school running community saw three straight years of sub-4s by the likes of Grant Fisher, Matthew Maton, Drew Hunter, Michael Slagowski and Reed Brown in 2015, 2016 and 2017. 

Those successes over a three period period seemed to indicate that the barrier was coming down on a more regular occasion. But history still proves that breaking 4-minutes in the mile is still an exclusionary cause for high school boys, and few possess the ability to even try.

Only 10 athletes have accomplished the feat. Ever. 

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No high school boy broke the barrier in 2018, even though Brentwood High School graduate Brodey Hasty certainly came really, really close. The Tennessee native was just .06 seconds shy from accomplishing the feat for the fourth straight year. 

And this track and field season brings a little more uncertainty. 

No high school boy returns this indoor season with an effort from 2018 even remotely close to that mark. And when looking ahead to the outdoor season, just one boy was within five seconds of 4-minutes in 2018. 

So this all begs the question: What will it take? What, exactly, does it take to break 4? 

For one, it certainly takes speed. 

When Alan Webb became the first athlete since the 1960s to break 4-minutes over the indoor season, he was capable of running sub-1:49 in the 800. 

But Webb also was inserted into a professional field that could push him. In the top four times ever recorded over the indoor season, all four boys were racing against professionals. 

Webb would first break the barrier in 2001 at the New Balance Games with a time of 3:59.86. Fifteen years later, Hunter would do the same, setting the indoor national record with a time of 3:57.81. 

But as Webb proved later in the 2001 season with his 1:47.74 800m, his speed made a huge difference. Hunter had the same wheels. He eventually ran 1:48.64 in the 800m in the spring of 2016. 

eventathleteclassmile time8001K
MIllrose GamesDrew Hunter20163:57.81NANA
NB GamesAlan Webb20013:59.86NANA
Millrose GamesBrodey Hasty20184:00.051:54.302:27.25
NB GamesDavid Principe20174:00.97NA2:27.86

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Hasty and Principe, however, did not have that same pick-up.

Both athletes failed to break 1:52 for 800m over the outdoor season. Hasty would go on to earn a personal best of 1:52.98 at Brooks PR that June, while Principe would log a best of 1:53.75 in high school. 

More athletes have broken 4-minutes over the outdoor season, though. And as times indicate, there is a heavy correlation with 800m and mile time. 

Pre ClassicAlan Webb20013:53.431:47.74
Adidas Grand PrixLukas Verzbicas20113:59.71NA
Pre ClassicDrew Hunter20163:58.861:48.64
Fes. of MilesReed Brown20173:59.301:51.01
Fes. of MilesGrant Fisher20153:59.38NA
Or. TwilightMatthew Maton20153:59.381:51.81
Nike TwilightMichael Slagowski20163:59.531:48.36

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As you can see, every single athlete who has broken four minutes in the mile in high school has run faster than 1:52 in the 800m.

While Maton and Brown utilized their aerobic engine to get them to sub-4, Slagowski had more raw speed -- which made up for a lack of endurance. 

Brown went on to the University of Oregon in 2018 and broke four minutes twice over the indoor season, lowering his personal best to 3:57.23. His personal best of 3:39.56 in the 1500m for Oregon also equates to 3:57.06 in the mile. 

This brings us to the current crop of athletes. 

2019 Indoor Candidates

Sam Affolder20194:10.97NA2:29.48
Ryan Oosting20194:11.78NANA
Nick Foster20194:14.36c1:56.01NA
Matthew Payamps20194:15.90NA2:29.61

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Of last year's junior class, Loudoun Valley's Affolder would be the most inclined to go after the mark in 2019 -- he's the top returner in the 1500m, 1600m and mile. He also could become the second athlete from Loudoun Valley to accomplish the feat, which would be a first.  

But to do so, Affolder will have to improve his speed. Last outdoor season, Virginia's two-time cross country champion produced an open 800m best of 1:54.13.

I've included Payamps as a flier, mostly because he ran 4:08.32 for the full mile outdoors and split 1:52.51 for the open 800m in 2018. While he's just the eighth fastest indoor returner in the mile, he jumped ahead of his peers after the spring season. 

Each athlete both recorded 1K efforts of 2:29, which equates out to a 4-minutes flat, however, speed will always make the difference in the final 609 meters of the full mile. 

Foster is the top returning miler from the outdoor season, though his indoor time is converted from 1600m. And then there's Oosting, who should have the fitness required but does he have the speed? If wants to go after the mark he'll have to race less.

Last year, the Massachusetts native raced eight times at the distance indoors. Oosting does, however, have the fastest returning 3K from last year with his 8:29.43 from New Balance Nationals Indoor. He went 8:28.22 at the same distance outdoors. He also split 1:54.32 in the open 800m in May. 

2019 Outdoor Candidates

athleteclassmile time800m
Nick Foster20194:05.501:53.38
Dan Maton20194:08.131:50.79
Matthew Payamps20194:08.321:52.51
Drew Bosley20194:08.82NA
Sean Dolan20194:08.861:50.74
Cole Hocker20194:09.48c1:55.15
Easton Allred20204:09.49NA
Jake Renfree20194:09.55c1:53.19

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In my mind, there should be two athletes primed for attempts at sub-4 in 2019 and potentially one or two more wildcards. 

Based on history and potential, Camas (WA) High School senior Dan Maton seems like the best bet to be the fastest miler in 2019 and could grab an invitation to the Prefontaine Classic. 

His brother, Matthew, accomplished the feat in 2015, and Dan is coming off a year where he almost broke 1:50 in the 800m at the USA Junior Championships. He doesn't have the engine like his brother -- Matthew went 14:45.00 for 5K in his senior year in cross country while Dan's best this fall was 15:40 -- but like Slagowski before him, perhaps Maton can overcome it with raw power. 

Before Slagowski broke 4-minutes in the mile twice as a senior in 2015, he ran 4:08.28 in his junior season at Brooks PR. 

We also have to consider the speed of Nick Foster.

The Ann Arbor Pioneer senior and Michigan senior had the fastest junior mile of 2018 and has the potential to cut down his 800m from a year ago. Foster may lack Maton's out right speed, but his aerobic threshold is higher -- he recored a best of 15:03.10 for 5K from his senior season in cross country. 

Beyond those two athletes, Dolan enters with a lot of potential, while Hocker could be a surprise pick considering his outstanding fall. 

If nothing else, the sub-4 watch this track and field season will be interesting, and it will take shape soon enough. 

Stats: Top 50 All-Time Indoor Milers - Top 50 Returners - Top 50 All-Time Outdoor Milers - Top 50 Returners