My Quest for Sir Roger Bannister, From the Archives


image3.jpegJeff Benjamin, Sir Roger Bannister, Brianna, Amanda Benjamin, photo by Jeff Benjamin

Original post, March 6, 2018

repost, January 8, 2019

We are all saddened by the loss of Sir Roger Bannister, the first man who broke four minutes for the mile. As part of that coverage, here is a piece by Jeff Benjamin on pursuing Sir Roger for an autograph and to meet his hero. Jeff is our long time, long suffering East Coast Senior Editor from Staten Island who loves the sport he writes about with every fiber of his being. Enjoy.

My Quest For Sir Roger - by Jeff Benjamin- 3/4

I was running late.

Leaving my teaching job on Staten Island to travel to New York City during rush hour was no easy feat. But this was a big trip.

To meet Sir Roger Bannister.

In a way, my journey that day reflected the juggling of priorities and events which Sir Roger faced daily during the early 1950's. His ascent to the "Everest" of Running coincided with his equal ascent to pursue medicine. The young Medical intern even went to work the morning of May 6th, 1954. Making his usual rounds around the hospital, he then boarded a train to Iffley Field at Oxford, hoping to do what no man had ever done and what some believed was physiologically impossible.

After leaving work I went and picked up my 2 young daughters and fellow Sports fan Charles Greinsky, who navigated the obstacles of traffic and poor weather as we ventured into the island of Manhattan.

On that fanned day in 1954 Sir Roger worried about the weather as well. Despite encouragement from coach Franz Stampfl and pacesetters Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, It seemed that Sir Roger was skeptical to say the least about what he hoped to accomplishment, as wind and rain seemed to make the attempt impossible.

Like Sir Roger we also had a time deadline to meet. His 2006 appearance at Paragon Sports store in Manhattan was only schedule for 2 hours. As the weather and traffic continued building Charlie and I quietly hoped we'd be able to make it.

In the mid afternoon of 1954, the rains stopped and the wind died down. His spirit uplifted, Roger decided to give it a go. He prepared himself for his moment.

Our preparations were somewhat different. Of course we would purchase Bannister's grand book "The Four Minute Mile". Charlie also brought along with him some Track Spikes he hoped to get signed.

Back in the early 1990's I learned of a great method to acquire treasured autographs from some of the world's greatest Milers. Sub 4 Miler and top masters Miler Kenny Popejoy had once shown me his collection of autographs he acquired in Cordner Nelson and Roberto Quercetani's epic book, "The Milers". Replete with yearly stories and photos going back more than a hundred years, Popejoy was able to acquire many of the world's greatest miler's signatures.

Taking that idea from Kenny I began bringing my copy around as well. Eamon Coughiin, Jim Ryun, Seb Coe, Abe Kiviat, Ron Delaney, Steve Cram, Said Aouita, Kip Keino and a host of others had graciously signed the book for me.

But I had not acquired the one signature on the largest picture centerfold in the book - Sir Roger. "That's the big one!", said Popejoy.

My book was ready.

Arriving at the store we were surrounded by a few hundred people waiting their turn. We had made it just before time was up.

As Sir Roger ran his race that day, he kept pressing hoping his time wasn't up. As the gun sounded he definitely did not want any negative distractions.

As we waited on line, the four of us were drawn to a very positive distraction. Waiting in line with us was Women's Running pioneer Kathrine Switzer and her husband, the pinnacle Running/Track & Field writer Roger Robinson. They spoke with us about how they had gotten to know Sir Roger throughout the years and they had wanted to surprise him.

There was no surprise during that 1954 immortal run. As many of you know Sir Roger hit his deadline as his historic 3 minutes, 59.4 Second performance broke barriers and sent a resonance through the world of sports and beyond. It was his moment.

Our moment with Sir Roger was just as inspiring. Greeting my daughters and asking them their names and how old they were was just the beginning of a grand few minutes.

Sir Roger then looked up at me and said something I'll never forget.

"Now YOU look like a Runner!"

I quickly replied, "Not as fast as you Sir Roger!" Laughter erupted.

Laughter and cheers erupted throughout England and the world for Sir Roger on that magical day in 1954. When the cheers, parties and radio appearances ended, Sir Roger went home and quietly and modestly went about his business, continuing his training and his interning, his mission accomplished.

image4.jpegThe Milers, by Cordner Nelson and Roberto Quercetani

Sir Roger graciously took pictures, signed his books for us and also signed Charlie's spikes. Amidst this moment I had forgotten one thing- trying to get "The Milers" book signed! I knew Kenny Popejoy would never let me live it down!

I hurriedly gave the book to my youngest daughter Brianna who got to Sir Roger just as he was leaving and he generously signed it.

image2.jpegJeff Benjamin, Roger Robinson, Katherwine Switzer, Brianna, Amanda Benjamin

When the event ended and Kathrine, Roger, Charlie, my 2 daughters and I said goodbye, we offered Sir Roger a ride back to his hotel. Sir Roger quietly and modestly thanked us all and then quietly and modestly hailed a cab and went on his way.

Mission Accomplished.

image5.jpegAutograph of Sir Roger Bannister, photo by Jeff Benjamin

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