History

Aug. 28, 1981: Trading the golden mile

British runner Sebastian Coe
Sebastian Coe. Photo: PA Photos/Getty Images

38 years ago today, the world record for running a mile changed hands for the third time in 10 days after British runner Sebastian Coe snatched the record back from fellow countryman Steve Ovett.

The big picture: The record wasn't broken again until Britain's Steve Cram ran a 3:46.32 in 1985. Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj (3:43.13) is the current record holder.

History, led by the forces all around us

In the East Africa Rift, Ethiopia. Photo: Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis/Getty

Some six millennia ago, temperatures abruptly plunged, and a profound drought ensued in the then-tropical Middle East: To survive, people abandoned their land, migrated, and ultimately organized into a string of cities, stewarded over by strong rulers including the pharaohs in Egypt.

Quick take: Today, geopolitics usually mean war, human ego, big economics, or disease. But the Middle East drama in the third and fourth millennia BC illustrates the much-underestimated role of earthly forces in shaping and utterly turning history — and is a window into what may be in store for current and future generations.