Sir Roger Bannister (1929 – ) was the first man to run a sub four-minute mile – one of the most iconic athletic milestones.
Born in 1929, he studied medicine at Oxford University, and represented Great Britain in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. At the Olympics, Roger Bannister finished 4th in the 1500 metres. But, inspired by the intensive training and three gold medals of Emil Zatopek, Bannister decided to make a determined effort to beat the magical four minute barrier for the mile.
At the time, Bannister was working as a doctor and only had limited time for training in the evening. He focused on short intervals, anaerobic training and the use of block training. (building up for certain weeks)
For a long time the beautiful symmetry of the four minute mile had fascinated many. Some experts even suggested that such a time was impossible. In 1923, Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn, recorded a time of 4.10
Roger Bannister breaks the Sub 4 minute Mile
In 1953, Roger Bannister saw an opportunity at an athletic meeting between Oxford University and Amateur Athletics Association on 6 May.
The actual day was cold, wet and windy and the record attempt was nearly called off. However, at the last moment, the wind died down and Bannister decided to take his chance. He was led out by two pacemakers Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher who led him for the first three laps. Then Bannister made his last effort for the line. Clearly on the verge of exhaustion, Bannister almost fainted over the line, before the time keeper (Norris McWhirter,) read out his time. McWhirter who went on to work on the Guinness Book of World Records, read out the time to create suspension.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was three…”
The seconds were not heard as the 3,000 crowd cheered the historic moment. Six weeks later in Finland the Australian John Landy became the second person to beat the four minute mile setting a new world record of 3 minutes 57 seconds. But, who remembers the second person to run a sub four minute mile? Bannister held the one mile record for the shortest time.
After breaking the record, Bannister concentrated on his medical career and remained modest about his ground breaking achievement. He also served as Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, before retiring in 1993. He later said there was an element of luck in being the first person to break the four minute mile. It remains one of the great milestones of athletic history
“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.”
– Roger Bannister
He went on to be a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, before retiring in 1993. When interviewed 50 years after the famous four minute mile, Bannister was asked whether he thought the sub four minute mile was his life’s greatest achievements. He said no. He felt his work in neurology was of greater importance. Bannister made discoveries in the field of autonomic failure.
The current mile record is held by Hicham El Guerrouj’s with a time of 3:43.13.
The Four-Minute Mile – Roger Bannister
- The Four-Minute Mile – Roger Bannister at Amazon.co.uk
- The Four-Minute Mile – Roger Bannister at Amazon.com
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