Sir Roger Bannister, photo courtesy of PhotoRun.net.
Fifty-six years ago, on a windy day, at the Iffley Road Track at Oxford University, history was made. Forbes magazine goes so far as to call it the Greatest Moment in sports. Sports Illustrated, in 1954, proclaimed the history making individual their first Sportsmen of the Year.
May 6, 1954 was the day that the first sub-four minute mile was broken. Roger Bannister’s book, the First Four Minutes is a wonderful read. The picture we have above is Sir Roger from 2004, when he received an award for the fiftieth anniversary of the event. Sir Roger, at 81 this year, is interviewed each year, on the anniversary of his paradigm changing record.
Sports Illustrated published this cover , 12.27.1999.
For me, Roger Bannister’s place in athletics history is as much because of his 3:59.4, as his ability to put his time in athletics in perspective. Bannister retired shortly after his European Championships win, before the 1956 Olympics. He has lived a long life and his career in the medical field was fulfilling. That, to me, is the important thing. Please enjoy the piece that follows by Walt Murphy on This Day in Track & Field:
May 6, 1954–No
event has had more of an impact on the sport than Roger Bannister’s
historic 3:59.4 mile at the Oxford University track on Iffley Road.
Sweden’s Gunder Hagg had held the world record of 4:01.4 since 1945 and
the race to become the first man in history to break 4-minutes for the
mile had been joined by three men–Bannister, Australia’s John Landy,
and American Wes Santee. Bannister enlisted two friends to help set the
pace in this latest attempt at making history. Training partner Chris
Brasher, who would win the gold medal in the steeplechase at the 1956
Olympics, led Bannister through the first 1/4-mile in 57.4, with
Bannister right behind in 57.5 and Chris Chataway, who would set his
own world record at 5,000-meters later in the year(13:51.6), a close
3rd. The order stayed the same through the 1/2-mile (1:58.2), then
Chataway moved into the lead with 1-1/2 laps to go, leading through the
3/4-mile split in 3:00.5. Bannister went into the lead on the final
backstretch and his race against the clock and a seemingly unbreakable
barrier was successful as he crossed the line in 3:59.4. Stadium
announcer Norris McWhirter (who, along with his brother, Ross, started
the Guiness Book of World Records), very aware of the significance of
the result, said with typical British restraint, “Ladies and
Gentlemen, here is the result of event number 9, the one mile: First,
number 41, R.G. Bannister of the Amateur Athletic Association and
formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, with a time which is a new
meeting and track record, and which subject to ratification will be a
new English Native, British National, British All-Comers’, European,
Bristish Empire, and World’s record. The time is Three… ” and the
rest of the time was lost in the roar of the crowd. (From the IAAF’s
World Record Progression book).
video of the entire race—http://rwdaily.
Bannister Talks ABout the Race:
Tom Michalik’s site: http://faculty.
SI’s first “Sportsman of the Year”: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.
BBC Remembers: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/
“The Four Minute Mile”:http://www.
Neal Bascomb’s “The Perfect Mile”: http://www.
Reviews of ESPN’s movie “Four Minutes”: http://www.christopher-
For more on our sport, please click on www.american-trackandfield.com.