Steve Wheeler: Last man to break the 4:00 mile in Raleigh (1974)
The last time someone broke the 4 minute barrier in the mile in Raleigh, North Carolina was 1974! Thanks to the beauty of the internet, we were able to catch up with that man, Steve Wheeler, who was also the first person from Connecticut to break the barrier. And thanks to Duke Sports Information for this great photo from Wheeler’s time competing at Duke in the 70’s. We’ll look to break that streak, Friday, August 1st at Meredith College.
If you like this 5 Questions with interview, please check out my archive of 80+ interviews at Writing About Running
5 Questions with Steve Wheeler
1. You ran 3:59.4 on April 20, 1974. What meet was this? Raleigh Relays? Was it at NC State?
Steve Wheeler: The meet was then known as the “Big 3” meet, and at the time it was an annual triangular event between Duke, UNC and NC State. It was at NC State.
2. What are your memories of the race? Was it your only dip under the 4 minute barrier? What did that feat mean to you then? And now?
Steve Wheeler: I remember the race well. It was special going under 4 minutes, but my goal was to win, not reach a certain time. I was unaware I had broken 4 until after the race, although I knew it would be close. My main competition was Jim Wilkins from North Carolina State. Jim was a senior and a strong and talented runner, so beating him was not easy. He led most for the way through even spits of 61, 2:02, 3:03. I kicked really hard with 250 to go on the back straight; on the way to a 56.4 last 440 (everything in yards then). I wasn’t challenged at the finish and probably had a little more in reserve if I had been – but not much! I won comfortably as I recall over Wilkins, who was second. It was very exciting to win and go under 4, it was a pretty big deal. I had run a 4:00.4 in 1973, so it was a one second PR. Maybe 12 years ago, someone like you contacted me out of the blue and asked if I was the Steve Wheeler from Connecticut. Turns out I’m the first from that state to go under 4. I had no idea anyone would keep a list and do research on such a thing as under 4 state by state. Pretty funny. And, yes it was the one and only time under 4 for me.
3. You ran under legendary Coach Al Buehler at Duke. What was that like? And what brought you to the school?
Steve Wheeler: Running under Coach Al was great. He was a very good coach who knew how to train middle distance and distance runners. But even more important, at that time he assembled a great group of runners and it was the spirit and camaraderie of my teammates I really enjoyed. I visited Duke in the fall of my senior year in high school and it was immediately my first choice, mainly because it was a a good academic school and because of the energy around track and cross country. I also liked the idea of running in less snow and ice than one would find in Connecticut winters.
4. What are you up to these days?
Steve Wheeler: Presently, I’m the City Manager of Hood River, Oregon. I’ve lived in Oregon since 1996 and have also served as the City Manager of Tualatin and the County Administrator of Clackamas County. I have two children, son graduated from the University of Oregon and daughter from Oregon State – so covered all the bases here!
5. Any tips you can offer for tackling the sub 4 minute mile?
Steve Wheeler: Work on both speed and strength. Take care of yourself try to stay healthy and injury-free, because consistency of training means a lot. Move to Eugene, Oregon, seems like under 4 happens there almost every week! Living in Oregon I’ve seen some incredible track performances.
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