The Vancouver 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games - We Are England
The Vancouver 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games
Vancouver 1954

The Vancouver 1954 British Empire & Commonwealth Games

The Games headed back to Canada where it witnessed its greatest ever moment - the Miracle Mile.

24 years after beginning life in North America as the British Empire Games, a name change was on the cards and for the next four editions it would be known as the 'British Empire & Commonwealth Games.' 24 nations competed with a total of 662 competitors, 108 of whom were English.

Back home however there were familiar problems for those 108 - namely a lack of finances. An Appeals Committee was formed under the chairmanship of the Earl Beatty, which was so successful that funds for future Games were also secured - a grand total of just over £42,000 was raised, almost £715,000 in today's money (2014). There were also deals struck with airlines and a total of 14 aircraft of six different types from two companies were provided, shared with Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and Nigerian athletes.

It was a memorable Games for those 108, particularly one Roger Bannister. Three months earlier the middle distance legend had achieved fame for running one mile in less than four minutes, but by the start of the Commonwealth Games he had lost his record to Australian John Landy.

The Games brought the two together and history was made. Landy had led for most of the race and even built a 10 yard gap on the penultimate lap, but with precious little distance left decided to look over his shoulder and see where Bannister was. Bannister overtook on the opposite side and never relinquished the lead, claiming the gold medal and a place in Commonwealth Games folklore (top).

England's Ralph Cooperman (left) won silver in the men's sabre event.

Meanwhile, the nation's fencers won five of the seven titles on offer, whilst three-time national sprint champion Cyril Peacock secured gold in cycling. There were impressive gold medal wins for wrestler Kenneth Richmond and weightlifter Jim Halliday.

Jim Peters, the first runner to complete a marathon in under 2 hours and 20 minutes, an achievement comparable to the sub-minute mile, opened up a 17 minute lead on his nearest rival only to collapse and be stretchered away. Sadly it was the end of his marathon career, and he later reflected that he was lucky to live after the incident.

The standard of competition had never been higher at the Games and England faced a real challenge against the might of the Australians and South Africans, but still managed to top the medals table, regaining their crown for a third victory in five.

It was also a Games that, for England at least, superbly highlighted the friendly atmosphere of the competition. The team touched down in Canada to a rapturous reception and enjoyed a 'triumphant drive through the city.' Volunteers in their own vehicles provided transport and reflecting on the Games having arrived back in England, the Earl Beatty wrote:

"In retrospect the Games were remarkable for many things... We shall never forget the wonderful hospitality of our Canadian hosts and of the countless citizens of Vancouver who wished to invite us to their homes, and could not do enough for us."

England would have a slightly simpler task in preparing for the next Games as fellow home nation Wales played host.