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Saturday 15 December 2018

Track legend and mile record breaker Bannister dies at 88

Roger Bannister at the Iffley Road track in Oxford. Pic: Reuters
Roger Bannister at the Iffley Road track in Oxford. Pic: Reuters

Roger Bannister, who has died at the age of 88, gave sport one of its most cherished moments by running the first sub-four-minute mile, made medical breakthroughs as a distinguished neurologist and served as the first chairman of Britain's Sports Council.

He was one of the UK's best-loved and most-respected sporting figures, best remembered for his feat one spring day in Oxford in 1954 when he conquered a challenge widely regarded at the time as beyond the limit of human endurance.

That race on May 6 when Bannister, then a 25-year-old medical student, ran the mile in three minutes 59.4 seconds wrote his name into the record books.

Miracle

Bannister, though, was prouder of his Commonwealth Games gold medal from the same year, when he defeated Australia's John Landy in a race dubbed the "Miracle Mile", while he viewed his academic achievements in neurology as greater than his exploits on the track.

Born in Harrow in north-west London on March 23, 1929, and educated at City of Bath Boys' School, Bannister opted not to compete at the 1948 Olympics in London as he felt he was not ready.

In 1954 Bannister made history with the first sub 4-minute mile. Photo credit: PA Wire
In 1954 Bannister made history with the first sub 4-minute mile. Photo credit: PA Wire

A medical student at Oxford, Bannister turned his attention to becoming the first man to run the mile in under four minutes. It was such a symbolic mark - four minutes for four laps - but attempts to break it were defied time after time. The closest anyone had managed was 4.01.4 from Sweden's Gunder Hagg in 1945.

The race which would make Bannister a hero took place in front of a 3,000-strong crowd at Oxford University's Iffley Road cinder track. He was supported by pacemakers Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher.

Brasher led them through the first quarter mile in 57.3 and halfway in 1:58. As the leader began to feel the strain, Chataway moved to the front and kept up the pace to go through the three-quarter mile mark in three minutes 0.4 seconds.

With little more than half a lap remaining Bannister burst past Chataway and kicked for the line, using the last of his energy to run through it before falling into the arms of his friend, the Rev Nicholas Stacey. He finished in 3:59.4. Forty-six days later he lost the record to Australian John Landy and never got it back, despite running a personal best of 3:58.8.

Bannister's interest in neurology was one of the main reasons for calling time on his track career.

He specialised in the nervous system, and admitted there was a "gentle irony" when he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2011.

Bannister is survived by his wife Moyra and four children.

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