Jim Bailey was the first runner to break the four-minute mile on American soil. He was also a one-time resident of Parkes – his father Patrick Joseph Bailey being the health inspector for Parkes Municipal Council from 1930-1940.
By age 19 he tied for first in the 880 yards at the 1949 Australian Championships with David White. In 1951 Bailey was national champion outright in 880 yards. It was his first time on the new cinders track in Melbourne which he found harsh. The French miler, Michel Clare, invited Bailey to train and compete in Europe where cinders tracks were the norm. The harsh winters were tough; Bailey returned to Australia in 1952 out of form, finishing second but missing out on the sole Olympic Games spot in 880 yards.
Injury meant Bailey missed the Vancouver Empire Games 880 yards final and the “Miracle Mile” won by UK’s Roger Bannister with Australian John Landy second. Bailey moved to USA and trained with Bill Bowerman at University of Oregon. He was invited to the blockbuster mile race in LA Memorial Coliseum where experts hoped for the first sub-four-minute mile on American soil. Bailey triumphed in an amazing race, beating the two favourites Roger Delany and Landy. Sadly, Australian media turned on Bailey for beating their “darling” Landy, and the Australian public did the same. Bailey was booed in Melbourne at the Olympic trials. Bailey and Landy were good friends.
Bailey remained in Washington state, never returning to his homeland. While the media portrayed him as a “villain”, Bellingham locals knew him as a generous man.
Bailey donated $100,000 to the Assumption Catholic School Foundation and regularly offered transport to the elderly within his community.
He died on 31st March 2020. Jim is survived by seven children from his first wife and one sister.
By Dan Fredericks