Roger Bannister was not just a runner. He was also a medical student who wanted to achieve the impossible: breaking the four-minute mile barrier. He did it on May 6, 1954, at Oxford’s Iffley Road track, in front of a crowd of 3,000 spectators. He ran the mile in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, becoming the first man to do so in recorded history.
Bannister was inspired by the Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi, who won nine Olympic gold medals in the 1920s. He trained using scientific methods and planned to run even-paced laps with the help of two pacemakers, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher. On the day of the race, he had already worked a morning shift at St Mary’s hospital in London, and then caught the train to Oxford. He faced windy and rainy conditions, but decided to go ahead with his attempt.
He later recalled: “I felt suddenly and gloriously free of the burden of athletic failure”. He also explained the significance of the four-minute mile: “It was a target. University athletes had been trying for years and it just didn’t seem to be capable of being broken. There was this magic about four symmetrical laps of one minute each”.
Bannister’s achievement was hailed as a milestone in human history. He received worldwide acclaim and admiration. He later won several championships and retired from athletics to pursue his medical career. He became a distinguished neurologist and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1975.
He also inspired generations of runners who followed his footsteps. Sebastian Coe, former Olympic champion and current president of World Athletics, said: “He was an inspiration to those like me who sought to combine university with international sport”. Steve Cram, former world mile record holder, said: “He was one of the great gentlemen of our sport and a true ambassador for athletics”.
Bannister died on March 3, 2018, at the age of 88, after suffering from Parkinson’s disease. He was remembered as a legend and a hero by many people. Barack Obama, former US president, who met Bannister in 2012, said: “He was running on cinders. The shoes were leather with spikes. They didn’t even have a stopwatch. The announcement came over the loudspeaker: ‘The time was three…’ The rest was drowned out by the roar of the crowd”.
– The First 4-Minute Mile, 60 Years Ago | HISTORY, by Christopher Klein, published on June 1, 2023
– Roger Bannister: The man who ran a mile in under four minutes | BBC News, by Tom Fordyce, published on November 1, 2023
– How Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile inspired a generation of runners | The Guardian, by Richard Williams, published on October 31, 2023
– Roger Bannister’s legacy lives on in the athletes he inspired | The Telegraph, by Oliver Brown, published on October 30, 2023