Remembering Sir Roger Bannister: The Man Who Ran A Mile Under 4 Minutes

Posted by Rimli Bhattacharya in Sports
March 7, 2018

“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” – Roger Bannister (March 23,  1929 – March 4, 2018)

Early Life And Education:

Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister was born on March 23 1929. We lost him on March 4, 2018 at the age of 88. The 6 ft 2 inches athlete was the first to run a mile in under four minutes.

The Englishman was born in Harrow, England and had his schooling in London followed by medical school at the University of Oxford and St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London. Roger was an academician, a doctor and also an athlete. His father was a civil servant and a runner which influenced Roger at a very tender age.

Though his focus of running was to steer clear of bullies and air raid sirens, little did he know it would turn him to a celebrity. He wrote in his memoir, “I imagined bombs and machine guns raining on me if I didn’t go my fastest.” After his family had been evacuated to the city of Bath, he earned acceptance at school by winning cross-country races.

Bannister’s Early Running Career

He was only 17 when he drew inspiration from the prodigious comeback of Sydney Wodderson in 1945. Bannister was never properly trained on running. Neither did he wear running spikes, nor did he run on the tracks for a practice. Born a talent, Bannister made a remarkable comeback in running a mile in 4:24:6 in the year 1947 with only three weekly half-hour training sessions.

In the year 1948, Bannister turned down the offer for participating in the Olympics in spite of getting selected to run the extra mile. In 1949, in the 880 yards, he improved to 1:52.7 and won the mile race in 4:11.

Having set his goals for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, in the year 1950, he improved his athletics further and concluded a slow 4:13 mile with a stunning 57.5 in the last quarter. After losing out to Arthur Wint and also bagging a third position in the European Championship, Bannister took to running the miles seriously. Bannister set a bar for himself for his improvement and fate willed in his favor. It was in the same year 1950 that he again won a mile race in 4:09.9.

In 1951 he won in the mile category with a marginal score of 56.7 finishing in 4:09.3. Then, in his biggest test to date, he won a mile race on 14 July in 4:07.8 at the AAA Championships at White City before 47,000 people. The time set a meet record and he defeated defending champion Bill Nankeville in the process. He was coached under Franz Stampfl.

The Olympics

Having saved his energy for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, Bannister ran 880 in 1:53.00 and then a 4:10.6 mile and seemed content with his results. His confidence was soon toned down when it was announced there would be semifinals for the 1,500 metre category which is equivalent to 0.932 miles.

He knew very well his competitors were far more superior in terms of training but still he ran and acquired the fifth position, qualifying for the finals. In the 1,500 metre run, he set a record of 3:46.30 and finished fourth. He was left heartbroken and was in two minds on whether to continue with running or to go back to his role as an academician and as a doctor. It happens with the most of us – failures and rejections prove as a setback. But the blows also help us grow.

 The 4-Minute Mile

As per the New York Times, “on the morning of May 6, 1954, a Thursday, Roger Bannister, 25, a medical student in London, worked his usual shift at St. Mary’s Hospital and took an early afternoon train to Oxford […]. About 1,200 people showed up at Oxford’s unprepossessing Iffley Road track to watch, and though the day was blustery and damp — inauspicious conditions for a record-setting effort — a record is what they saw. Paced by Chataway and Brasher and powered by an explosive kick, his signature, Bannister ran a mile in under four minutes — 3:59.4, to be exact — becoming the first man ever to do so, breaking through a mystical barrier and creating a seminal moment in sports history. The New York Times declared Bannister had reached ‘one of man’s hitherto unattainable goals’.”

Bannister was a true gentlemen and an athlete with a spiritual, scholarly and cognitive mind. He kept to himself and never beat his trumpet unlike the modern-era sports celebrity. It was his work which got noticed. Sports Illustrated called him “among the most private of public men, inexhaustibly polite, cheerfully distant, open and complex.”

A Look Into His Personal Diary

In the year 1954, Bannister fell in love with Moyra Jacobsson. Moyra was a painter and never understood the running records of Sir Bannister. In one of his statements, Bannister said, “For a time, my wife thought I had run four miles in one minute.” Bannister leaves behind an aggrieved Moyra, two sons Clive and Thurstan, and two daughters Erin and Charlotte.

The Farewell

As the sports industry media channels tweet about his death, we – his fans – will sorely miss him too for his contribution to the sports fraternity.

Be like Sir Roger Bennister, who will now be remembered as an academician, a doctor and an athlete who completed the four-minute mile. He will also be remembered for his hard work and dedication.

You can read more about his achievements here.