South Africa coach Heyneke Meyer has taken inspiration from the first sub four-minute mile as the Springboks bid to make Rugby World Cup history.
Every World Cup-winning team – including South Africa in 1995 and 2007 – have gone through the tournament unbeaten.
Springbok fans thought their team’s chances nosedived after a stunning 34-32 defeat by Japan in their Pool B opener, a result regarded as the greatest upset in World Cup history.
Meyer, however, cited running a mile in under four minutes, once thought to be impossible until Britain’s Roger Bannister clocked three minutes 59.4 seconds in 1954, as an example of a once staggering feat that was now commonplace.
South Africa responded to their shock reverse with a 46-6 win over Samoa and last weekend’s 34-16 defeat of Scotland.
Now they top their group and are on course for a quarter-final with the loser of Australia and Wales.
But they still have one more pool match on Wednesday against the United States before the knockout stages.
“We don’t look past this game,” Meyer told reporters on Monday.
“That’s been our problem, where we couldn’t build game on game. One thing about South Africans, if we don’t pitch up and are not physical, then we are beatable.
“But there are so many examples of comebacks that people said can’t happen. They said the mile would never be run in under four minutes; now everybody does it.
“I believe everything is possible, and the guys know this is,” added Meyer, criticised heavily after the Japan match.
“But we know we have to get through this game.
“People say things to be nice, but we really respect the USA. They’ve shown they’re very difficult to play against, very physical, a lot of big, strong forwards and great runners in midfield.”
Meyer repeated the team mantra that “every single game is actually a final.”
Meyer has made just two injury-enforced changes to the team that beat Scotland.
Lwazi Mvovo replaces wing JP Pietersen, while prop Frans Malherbe comes in for Jannie du Plessis. Pietersen and du Plessis have knee injuries.
Morne Steyn, who has fallen behind Handre Pollard and Pat Lambie in South Africa’s fly-half pecking order, could be involved off the bench.
The 31-year-old played the last of his 59 Tests against Australia in September last year but Meyer said the renowned goal-kicker’s attitude had been exemplary.
“Morne’s probably what all South Africans and Springboks should be,” he said. “He’s here to serve and the thing that hasn’t been nice for him is that youngsters have been playing ahead of him.
“He’s done everything, been a World Cup winner (as a 2007 squad member), beat the British and Irish Lions on his own.” Steyn’s last-minute penalty gave the Springboks a series-clinching win in the second Test in 2009.
“I never had to keep him positive. He’s been an example to everyone, helping other guys with their kicking.”