Roger Bannister: The Life and Times of a Legend

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The four minute mile was an elusive ambition in the field of athletics.  It had been a target for many years but has never been recorded formally.  Then one day in 1954 a young man by the name of Roger Gilbert Bannister was the first person to cross this important barrier.

It was a symbol of humanity’s ability to improve upon itself and he was there first.  For years it had been thought an impossible barrier.

Roger Bannister was born in 1929 (and is still going strong to this day) in Harrow, a small town outside of London famous for its private boy’s school.

Bannister, however went to City of Bath Boys’ School before going on to study at University at Oxford University, followed by a tenure at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School which now forms part of Imperial in London.

Like many British gentleman of his day, Bannister’s start in the world of athletics was decidedly amateur – and this is not meant in a derogatory way, At 17 he had gone down to Oxford, a promising medical career lying ahead of him.

Running was a serious hobby – so the young Bannister had for example never worn running spikes before that time or indeed run on a track.

Roger Bannister

Even by the standards of 1946 his training was light.  Yet he showed an enormous amount of promise and the following year he ran a mile in 4:26:6.  This was with just a half hour training session three times a week.

Roger BannisterThe British Olympics Committee was certainly impressed and he was selected as a possible in 1948.  The still teenage Bannister graciously declined.  He felt that he was not ready for the Olympics, choosing instead to watch them.

Over the next few years he steadily improved his timing at both the mile and the 800m (run in European Championships where a defeat in 1950 spurred him on to train much more vigorously than ever before).

His reputation of invincibility grew (mostly at home in the UK, of course) but this came crashing down in the European Championships at Belgrade in 1951 on 25 August,  He lost to the Yugoslav Andrija Otenhajmer – at 3:48:4 in the 1500m.  It was only 1:4 behind the other runner but it was, nevertheless, a blow.

The 1952 Olympics saw a further blow where he came fourth in the 1500m final.  Yet hope remained – he had at least set a British record of 3:46.30 (3:46.0) in the process.

Bannister spent several months dwelling on his defeat and deciding whether to stay with running or to give it up entirely.  He eventually shrugged off the idea of throwing in the towel and instead set himself a new target – to be the first man to run a mile under four minutes.

Roger Bannister
He trained incredibly hard and in 1953 he made an attempt at the British record, previously held by Sydney Wooderson at 4:04.2 who had created the record eight years previously.

Bannister came in at 4:03:6 – shattering the record and instilling a new hope in himself – he knew now that the four-minute mile was not out of reach.

Roger BannisterIt was not as if he didn’t have competition.  Other runners had their eye on the prize too.

The American Wes Santee came close on 5 June 1953 with a time of 4:02:4.  Then there was the Australian John Landy who ran 4:02:0 in December of the same year. He followed this up with several new attempts in the early months of 1954 but narrowly failed to better his time.

Also Read:  Is this Bruce Lee Statue the Best Sports-related Monument in the World?

Bannister had nervously followed his Australian rival, convinced that at each attempt the four-minute mile would be broken.

At the end of the Australian season in April Bannister knew that he had a short window of opportunity – his own attempt at the record had to come soon.

The date was chosen.  It would be 6 May 1954 at a meet between the British AAA and Oxford University.  The Iffley Road Track in Oxford was duly prepared and 3,000 spectators turned up in anticipation.  Yet the day turned out to be windswept – a 25 mile per hour wind was blowing around the track.

Bannister all but pulled out but then, just before the race was due to start the winds – as if by divine ordinance, dropped.  The race would go ahead.

Roger BannisterBrasher and Chataway, running colleague had already agreed to provide the pacing for Bannister.

Harold Abrahams (immortalised by his own career and the film Chariots of Fire) was there to do the commentary for the BBC Radio.

Norris McWhirter who would later in his life edit and publish The Guiness Book of Records with his twin brother Ross was the stadium announcer.

It was an all star cast, as it were.

McWhirter was something of a showman.  Once the race was run he teased the audience with a long preamble to the hotly anticipated result.

Roger Bannister“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event 9, the one mile: 1st, No. 41, 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 3…”

There was no point at the stage in continuing.  As soon as the stadium heard the magic word – 3 – it erupted with a deafening roar of triumph.  Bannister’s time was 3:59.04 and it was indeed a new World Record.

Of course this spurred on athletes all over the globe and it was less than two months later (46 days to be precise) that Bannister’s own record was broken.  This time it was his rival, the Australian John Landy who ran 3:57:9 in Finland.

Bannister and Landy were to finally compete against each other, post record, on 7 August 1954 at the Commonwealth Games in Canada.  Bannister won this epic clash of the titans, coming in at 3:58:8 with Landy less than a second behind him.  Roger Bannister went on to gain a European Championship record for the metic mile (the 1500m) at Bern on 29 August – his time there was 3:43:8.

If it was today, Bannister would have been made for life with sponsorship deals and so on.  However, for athletes 1954 was another world – if not universe and these options were simply unthought-of at that point. After Bern, Roger Bannister announced his retirement from athletics.

Roger Bannister
He returned to his role as a junior doctor and pursued a successful career in neurology.

He became a knight in 1975.

First Four Minute Mile (Roger Bannister:1954):

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

MLB: End Of Season Award Show 2 Cy Youngs, 2 Rookie of the Years and More!

The 2020 MLB regular season has come to an end, and with it comes playoff brackets, predictions, debates and discussions. However, we are going to save playoff predictions for another article. In this article we are going to talk about End of Season awards. Wo deserves the Cy Young awards?, Rookie of the Year? Most Valuable Player??? All of these questions and more will be answered. These are my opinions after watching the games,...

When It Comes To Israel Adesanya – Believe The Hype

If you've ever had the privilege of watching Israel Adesanya fight, you know that he is the perfect example of handcrafted precision. In his most recent fight, so many people felt this would be the fight that would finally DE-thrown the champ.  They felt Paulo Costa had the advantage because of his size, his strength and his overall power. If you've seen Costa, you know he's like a modern day Hercules. Costa's punches are explosive and...

2020 NBA Finals: A Champion Will Be Crowned

The stage is set. After a few short months that involved an eight game restart season and a very unique postseason,  the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will face each other for the first time in the NBA Finals. There are a lot of storylines that will unfold during the duration of the Finals, but the main storyline will have to be LeBron James facing the team that helped him win two championships....

Memorable Test Match Innings: Kevin Pietersen at the Oval 15 years on

“I saw this innings via a social distancing gap between myself and the television. To truly have the visceral thrill of Pietersen’s 158, you needed to be at The Oval on 12 September 2005.” “Just because I've got a stupid haircut or diamond earrings, it's not going to make me cover drive a ball any differently.” Kevin Pietersen arrived on the international scene in full technicolour. In early 2005, KP entered the lion’s den of his...

Tewatia plays blinder as Rajasthan chase historic total to beat KXIP

Rahul Tewatia hit 5 sixes in an over as Rajasthan Royals chased down the highest score in Indian Premier League history to beat Kings XI Punjab by four wickets on Sunday. Tewatia hit Sheldon Cottrell for five sixes in the 18th over and added another six of the next ball he faced as Rajasthan chased down 224. Jofra Archer hit 13 from 3 balls to see the side home. Rajasthan beat their own record – they...

NRL Finals Loom as Regular Season Concludes

The first fixtures of the National Rugby League's finals series are locked in after the final round of the regular season came to an end today. The Competitors While Penrith Panthers had already secured the minor premiership and the top eight were determined two rounds ago, some key positions were still open and the race for those positions made for some entertaining footy. The Newcastle Knights failed to hold sixth place, going down on Friday to a...

Russian GP – Race Preview

Russian Grand Prix can be a boring race so let's hope this race gets off to a great start. The only memory I have of the Russian GP is Valtteri Bottas letting Lewis Hamilton win. Last race at Mugello was an exciting race. With two red flags and one horrible crash. And Ferrari 1000 celebration wasn't the best either, but that might be because of the strict rules now during COVID 19. So I am happy...

Benny Leonard: Always A Champion

If you sat down with a group of boxing fans under the age of say, 50, and began to talk about whether Benny Leonard really is a Top-10 all-time fighter, you'd probably have a cacophony of voices barking at you about how great "Sugar" Ray really was. Tell them you were talking about Benny Leonard though, and you might hear a lot of "Who's that?" from the same group. But Benny Leonard most definitely belongs...

The Green Light: The Rugby Championship 2020

In what has been a challenging year for many rugby fans and mainly the players, the Southern Hemisphere's Rugby Championship 2020 tournament has just been confirmed for the back end of the season. The Rugby Championship tournament - previously known as the Tri-Nations - was inaugurated in 1996 with the three rugby-rich countries; Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, all contesting for the converted trophy. In 2012, the tournament expanded to add the South...

IPL Talking Points

Efficient CSK get the job done again Before the tournament began, the Chennai Super Kings were touted to struggle by everybody analysing the game. But, on the opening day, post the opening powerplay overs, MS Dhoni proved once again why the IPL betting odds are always in their favor. From a position where they could have chased a tall score, CSK restricted MI to a chaseable total and then led by solid innings from...

Social Connect


Trending Now

NRL Finals Loom as Regular Season Concludes

The first fixtures of the National Rugby League's finals series are locked in after the final round of the regular season came to an...
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x