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In Oxford, England, 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister cracks track and field’s most notorious barrier: the four-minute mile. Bannister, who was running for the Amateur Athletic Association against his alma mater, Oxford University, won the mile race with a time of 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds.
For years, so many athletes had tried and failed to run a mile in less than four minutes that people made it out to be a physical impossibility. The world record for a mile was 4 minutes and 1.3 seconds, set by Gunder Hagg of Sweden in 1945. Despite, or perhaps because of, the psychological mystique surrounding the four-minute barrier, several runners in the early 1950s dedicated themselves to being the first to cross into the three-minute zone.
Roger Bannister, born in Harrow, England, in 1929, was a top mile-runner while a student at the University of Oxford and at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. In 1951 and 1953, he won British championships in the mile run. As he prepared himself for his first competitive race of the 1954 season, Bannister researched the mechanics of running and trained using new scientific methods he developed. On May 6, 1954, he came to the Iffley Road track in Oxford for the annual match between the Amateur Athletic Association and Oxford University. Conditions were far from ideal; it had been windy and raining. A considerable crosswind was blowing across the track as the mile race was set to begin.
At 6 p.m., the starting gun was fired. In a carefully planned race, Bannister was aided by Chris Brasher, a former Cambridge runner who acted as a pacemaker. For the first half-mile, Brasher led the field, with Bannister close behind, and then another runner took up the lead and reached the three-quarter-mile mark in 3 minutes 0.4 seconds, with Bannister at 3 minutes 0.7 seconds. Bannister took the lead with about 350 yards to go and passed an unofficial timekeeper at the 1,500-meter mark in 3 minutes 43 seconds, thus equaling the world’s record for that distance. Thereafter, Bannister threw in all his reserves and broke the tape in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. As soon as the first part of his score was announced–“three minutes…”–the crowd erupted in pandemonium.
Bannister went on to win British and Empire championships in the mile run, and the European title in the 1,500-meter event in 1954. At the end of the year, Bannister retired from athletic competition to pursue his medical career full time and in 1955 recounted his experiences in the book The Four Minute Mile. He later earned a medical degree from Oxford and became a neurologist. In 1975, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He died in March 2018, at age 88.
His world record in the mile did not stand long, and the record continued to be lowered with increasingly controlled climatic and surface conditions, more accurate timing devices, and improvements in training and running techniques. A “sub-four” is still a notable time, but top international runners now routinely accomplish the feat. Because a mile is not a metric measurement, it is not a regular track event nor featured in the Olympics. It continues, however, to be run by many top runners as a glamour event.
Five Things to Know About Roger Bannister, the First Person to Break the 4-Minute Mile
Roger Bannister, the first person to break the 4-minute mile, died in Oxford on Saturday at age 88, the Associated Press reports.
More than 60 years ago, back on a cinder track at Oxford University's Iffley Road Stadium in 1954, Bannister completed four laps in 3:59.4, a record-breaking performance that many believed was not humanly possible. The image of the exhausted Bannister with his eyes closed and mouth agape appeared on the front page of newspapers around the world, a testament to what humankind could achieve.
“It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible,” Bannister said as the 50th anniversary of the run approached, according to the AP. “I'd like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.”
Here are five things you should know about the iconic athlete and his stunning mid-century run.
He Sought the Record Due to Olympic Failure
Frank Litsky and Bruce Weber at The New York Times report that Bannister began running to avoid bullies and the air raid sirens during the WWII blitz of London.
The tall, lanky blonde also happened to be booksmart, and used his intellect to land an athletic scholarship to Oxford University. There, Bannister caught the eye of coaches while serving as a pacemaker for a mile race in 1947. While pacemakers generally drop out before the end of the race, Bannister continued on, reportedly beating the field by 20 yards, AP sportswriter Chris Lehourites recounts.
Though Bannister quickly became one of the U.K.’s most promising track stars, he remained a true student-athlete. History.com reports that he skipped running the 1500 meters at the 1948 London Olympics so he could concentrate on his studies. In 1952, he competed at the Helsinki Olympics, coming in fourth in the 1500 meters. That performance was roundly criticized by the British press. Afterward, he resolved to break the 4-minute mile, which several other runners were chasing. Thanks to insights he gleaned from medical school, he created a specially tailored training regimen to prepare himself for his barrier-breaking run on May 6, 1954.
Track singlet worn by Englishman Roger Bannister (b. 1931) at the 1954 Commonwealth Games, Vancouver, Canada. Bannister barely beat Landry, finishing at 3:58.8, less than a second ahead of Landy at 3:59.6. (National Museum of American History)
Breaking the Record Wasn’t His Most Famous Run
As it so happens, Bannister’s record only last 46 days before Australian runner John Landy shaved 1.5 seconds off of his time at a meet in Turku, Finland. Michael McGowan at The Guardian reports that the back-t0-back record-breaking performances set the stage for one of running’s most incredible showdowns when in August of 1954, Bannister and Landy faced off at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games at the Vancouver Exhibition (renamed the Pacific National Exhibition in 1946).
During the race, Landy led with Bannister at his heels. At the final turn, however, Landy turned and looked over his left shoulder to find out where Bannister was. At that moment Bannister surpassed Landy on the right, winning the race. Both men finished what came to be known as the Miracle Mile in under 4 minutes, the first time that had ever happened.
Vancouver sculptor Jack Harman erected a statue of the runners during the race, which still stands outside the exhibition. In the work, Landy is looking over his shoulder at Bannister. McGowan reports that Landy joked that while Lot’s wife in the Bible was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, “I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”
Bannister retired from running soon after setting the record
Though he was chosen as Sports Illustrated’s first "Sportsman of the Year" and could have continued on with a professional running career, Bannister shocked the world by retiring from running at the end of that summer after winning the 1500 meters at the European Championships in Bern, Switzerland, reports McGowan.
“As soon as I ceased to be a student, I always knew I would stop being an athlete,” he once said, as Adam Addicott at The Sportsman recounts. That fall he began his rounds as a doctor.
Bannister went on to have a long career as a neurologist, serving for many years as the director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London.
He Fought Against Drugs in Sports
Bannister, who became Sir Roger Bannister after being knighted in 1975, never lost his interest in athletics. Between 1971 and 1974, he served at the chairman of the British Sports Council and between 1976 and 1983, he served as the president of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Recreation.
But most significantly, Addicott reports, as chair of the Sports Council he gathered together a group of researchers to develop the first test for anabolic steroids, a substance that Bannister and many others believed the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc nations were using to juice their athletes. “I foresaw the problems in the 1970s and arranged for the group of chemists to detect the first radioimmunoassay test for anabolic steroids,” he told Mike Wise at The Washington Post in 2014. “The only problem was it took a long time for the Olympic and other authorities to introduce it on a random basis. I foresaw it being necessary.”
Addicott reports that in recent years Bannister remained a vocal anti-doping advocate and expressed "extreme sadness" in its prevelance in sport today.
"I hope that Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) and Usada (US Anti-Doping Angency) will be successful in bringing this to an end," he said in an interview with ITV just last month.
Bannister’s Record Is Long Gone
Kevin J. Delaney at Quartz reports that Bannister’s records did not live much past the summer of 1954. Since then, 500 American men alone have broken the 4 minute mark, including 21 who have done so since the beginning of this year.
The current record to beat is 3:43.13, which was set by 24-year-old Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999. Delaney reports that with the right body type and training, some models predict a 3:39 minute mile is theoretically achievable in the future.
For women, no athlete has broken the 4-minute mile. yet. Russian Svetlana Masterkova currently holds the world record in the race, ripping out a time of 4:12.56 at the Weltklasse Grand Prix track-and-field meet in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1996.
About Jason Daley
Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.
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Roger Bannister, in full Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister, (born March 23, 1929, Harrow, Middlesex, England—died March 3, 2018, Oxford, Oxfordshire), English neurologist who was the first athlete to run a mile in less than four minutes.
While a student at the University of Oxford and at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School, London, Bannister won British (1951, 1953–54) and Empire (1954) championships in the mile run and the European title (1954) in the 1,500-metre event. He broke the four-minute barrier with a time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds in a dual meet at Oxford on May 6, 1954. Breaking the world record (4 minutes 1.3 seconds), held for nine years by Gunder Hägg of Sweden, was almost incidental to his successful defiance of the “psychological” barrier, the general belief in the impossibility of running a mile in less than four minutes. Bannister is said to have achieved his speed through scientific training methods and thorough research into the mechanics of running. He recounted his experiences in the book The Four Minute Mile (1955).
Bannister graduated from St. Mary’s in 1954, earned a medical degree from Oxford in 1963, and became a neurologist. He wrote papers on the physiology of exercise, heat illness, and neurological subjects, and from 1969 on he edited Brain’s Clinical Neurology (retitled Brain and Bannister’s Clinical Neurology, 7th ed., 1990). He was knighted in 1975.
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Michael Ray, Editor.
Bannister Decided To Change Things
He discovered he had a talent for running and knuckled down to train. He decided to win a university scholarship – which he did. His hard work paid off – he won a track scholarship to Oxford University.
While he was at university, the press got wind of his talent. While he declined to compete in the 1948 Olympics, watching it inspired him to push forward & compete in the 1952 Olympics. At this point, expectations were high – Bannister expected to win the 1500 meters. Britain expected him to win. Everyone expected him to win.
But, at the last minute, the schedule was changed, disrupting Bannister’s resting routine and he came in fourth.
Roger Bannister runs first four-minute mile - HISTORY
"It all starts with desire, the drive to be the best. Fueled by my faith in my training, I will overcome all obstacles. I am brave! I am not afraid to face anyone on the track. I believe this is not a dream. It is my reality."
Roger Bannister's impact on America—and the world—was immediate. The young Englishman changed the perception of human limitations when he broke a seemingly insurmountable barrier: the sub-four-minute mile. The Oxford University medical student used intense interval training, an innovative distance running and sprint technique, to fine-tune his speed. On May 6, 1954, at the British Amateur Athletic Association in Oxford, Bannister brought in a time of 3:59.4, hailed around the world as the "miracle mile."
Bannister's performance and new record captured the imagination of people around the world—especially Americans. "The Running Doctor" was the first international sports star celebrated in this country for his heroic accomplishments. He was Sports Illustrated's first Sportsman of the Year in 1955.
A psychological barrier was shattered. What once was impossible became standard. In a post-war world where technology was on the rise, Bannister's feat was viewed as an exhilarating testament to the power of the human body and spirit.
The Missing Link
“Faith is the highest form of knowledge.”
Prior to Bannister’s world record, the spotlight was on his rival, John Landy, a talented Australian runner tipped to break the four-minute mile.
In December 1952, Landy missed the mark on a big stage, running a time of four minutes and 2 seconds. After the race, Landy shook hands with the prime minister, retreated to his locker room and came out to speak to reporters wearing a look of frustration on his face:
“Frankly, I think the four-minute mile is beyond my capabilities. Two seconds may not sound much, but to me it’s like trying to break through a brick wall. Someone may achieve the four-minute mile the world is wanting so desperately, but I don’t think I can.” 
Unlike Bannister, Landy believed the four-minute mile was out of his reach. His repeated failures and those of other runners cemented his belief that it was an impossible feat. And yet, a few months after Bannister destroyed the myth, Landy broke the record, and thousands of runners subsequently did so too.
One of the best explanations for this phenomenon is the theory of self-efficacy developed by the renowned psychologist, Albert Bandura. According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy is defined as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments.”
The self-efficacy theory suggests that individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to take the most action towards their goals, persist in the face of adversity and push the barriers of what they believe is possible. They are also more likely to tap into states of flow that improve mental and physical performance.
Even though Landy was the more talented runner, he lacked the self-efficacy that Bannister had. Bannister’s high self-efficacy enabled him to audaciously step outside the realms of what was possible at the time.
How do people like Bannister develop high self-efficacy? They cultivate the discipline of reframing failures and obstacles as positive opportunities for growth. Unlike those with low self-efficacy, individuals with high levels of self-efficacy tend to be committed to the process of achieving their goals and yet remain unattached to the outcome. They don’t strive for perfection and avoid beating themselves up after making mistakes.
In short, the key difference between individuals with low versus high self-efficacy, is that the latter has a growth mindset whilst the former has a fixed mindset.
Roger Bannister, First Athlete to Break the 4-Minute Mile, Dies at 88
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. He had lunch with some old friends, then met a couple of his track teammates, Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher. As members of an amateur all-star team, they were preparing to run against Oxford University.
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.
Bannister’s feat was trumpeted on front pages around the world. He had reached “one of man’s hitherto unattainable goals,” The New York Times declared. His name, like those of Babe Ruth, Bobby Jones and Jesse Owens, became synonymous with singular athletic achievement.
Then, astonishingly — at least from the vantage point of the 21st century — Bannister, at the height of his athletic career, retired from competitive running later that year, to concentrate on medicine.
“Now that I am taking up a hospital appointment,” he said in an address to the English Sportswriters Association that December, “I shall have to give up international athletics. I shall not have sufficient time to put up a first-class performance. There would be little satisfaction for me in a second-rate performance, and it would be wrong to give one when representing my country.”
After a long career as a neurologist, both in research and clinical practice, Bannister, who was knighted in 1975, died on Saturday in Oxford, his family confirmed in a statement on Sunday. He was 88.
His record-setting feat would be surpassed many times. Runners in the next decades would be faster, stronger, better-equipped, better-trained and able to devote much of their time to the pursuit while benefiting from advances in sports science. But their later success did not dim the significance of Bannister’s run.
“He was running on 28 training miles a week,” Sebastian Coe, who set the world record in the mile three different times, once said. “He did it on limited scientific knowledge, with leather shoes in which the spikes alone probably weighed more than the tissue-thin shoes today, on tracks at which speedway riders would turn up their noses. So as far as I’m concerned, that was one of the great runs of all time.”
Tall and lanky with a long, forceful stride and a blond head that usually bobbed above his competitors’ in a race, Bannister was a gentleman athlete with a philosophical turn of mind. He was a quiet, unassuming champion, a character of a type that has seemingly vanished in the modern era of sports celebrity. Sports Illustrated called him “among the most private of public men, inexhaustibly polite, cheerfully distant, open and complex.”
His 1955 memoir — called “The Four-Minute Mile,” and reissued 50 years later as “The First Four Minutes” — amounted to a portrait of the athlete as a young artist. In a typically analytic and introspective passage, he described the moment at which a runner decides to break from the pack and take the lead:
“The decision to ‘break away’ results from a mixture of confidence and lack of it. The ‘breaker’ is confident to the extent that he suddenly decides the speed has become slower than he can himself sustain to the finish. Hence he can accelerate suddenly and maintain his new speed to the tape. But he also lacks confidence, feeling that unless he makes a move now, everyone else will do so and he will be left standing.
“The spurt is extremely wasteful because it is achieved at the cost of relaxation,” he went on, “which should be maintained throughout the race. The athlete’s style and mood change completely when he accelerates. His mind suddenly starts driving an unwilling body which only obeys under the stimulus of the excitement. The earlier in the race this extra energy is thrown in, the greater the lead captured, but the less chance of holding it.”
The idea at the heart of this passage — that you must seize the right moment or risk its passing forever — was very much a factor in Bannister’s record-setting run. Milers had been flirting with four minutes for at least a decade. The Swedish runner Arne Andersson ran a 4:01.6 in 1944 the next year, his countryman Gunder Hägg sliced two-tenths of a second from the world record.
It had gone no lower before Bannister toed the starting line at Iffley Road, but it was widely believed that the four-minute barrier was on the verge of falling, and that one of three men — Bannister, the Australian John Landy and the American Wes Santee — would bring it down. (Landy became the second to do so Santee never did.)
The meet in Oxford was Bannister’s first in eight months, and he had been training seriously for six of them. As the year went on, he would face far stiffer competition, but with Brasher (later an Olympic steeplechase champion) and Chataway (later the world record holder at 5,000 meters) enlisted as his supporting cast, he chose May 6 and the familiar Iffley Road track, where he’d run as an Oxford man himself, as the time and place for his assault on the four-minute mark.
The unpromising weather nearly persuaded him to call off the attempt, run an ordinary race and save the more intensive effort for a meet in London scheduled 10 days later. This was no small decision.
“Failure is as exciting to watch as success, provided the effort is absolutely genuine and complete,” he wrote in his memoir. “But the spectators fail to understand — and how can they know — the mental agony through which an athlete must pass before he can give his maximum effort. And how rarely, if he is built as I am, he can give it.”
The wind died down, however, shortly before the race was to begin, and standing at the starting line, Bannister made the decision: The attempt was on. With Brasher setting the early pace, Bannister ran the first quarter mile in 57.5 seconds and the first half mile in 1:58. Then Chataway took the lead, and after three quarters, the time was 3:00.7. Bannister passed him with 300 yards to go.
“Those last few seconds seemed never-ending,” Bannister wrote. “The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead as a haven of peace, after the struggle. The arms of the world were waiting to receive me if only I reached the tape without slackening my speed. If I faltered, there would be no arms to hold me and the world would be a cold, forbidding place, because I had been so close. I leapt at the tape like a man taking his last spring to save himself from the chasm that threatens to engulf him.”
Roger Gilbert Bannister was born on March 23, 1929, in the London suburb of Harrow. His father, a civil servant, had been a runner, of sorts: He won his school mile, Bannister wrote in his memoir, “and promptly fainted afterwards — as so many runners did in those days.”
Young Roger ran, too, both for the thrill of it, he wrote, and out of fear, to steer clear of bullies and in response to air-raid sirens, which he heard as a boy in World War II during the Battle of Britain.
“I imagined bombs and machine guns raining on me if I didn’t go my fastest,” he wrote. “Was this a little of the feeling I have now when I shoot into the lead before the last bend and am afraid of a challenge down the finishing straight? To move into the lead means making an attack requiring fierceness and confidence, but fear must play some part in the last stage, when no relaxation is possible and all discretion is thrown to the winds.”
After his family had been evacuated to the city of Bath, he earned acceptance at school by winning cross-country races. When he returned to London, however, his school there prized sports like rowing and rugby above running, and his racing career stalled until he entered Oxford University, where, at 17, he was introduced to spiked shoes and ran his first mile in 4:53.
By 1952, he was among England’s leading hopes for a gold medal at the Helsinki Olympic Games, but at the last minute, because of the large number of entrants, officials added a semifinal between the qualifying heat and the finals of the 1,500-meter competition. The timing of the extra race disrupted Bannister’s regimen of exertion and recovery, and left him depleted. He finished fourth. The sting and shame of the defeat motivated the rest of his running career.
As enduring as it has been in the history of sport, Bannister’s record was, in fact, a fleeting one. On June 21, 1954, just weeks after his breakthrough, John Landy lowered the world record to 3:58 and set the stage for an epic encounter between the two men at the Empire Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
On Aug. 7, before 35,000 spectators, in a race that quickly came to be known as both the “Mile of the Century” and the “Miracle Mile,” Landy took an early lead but was chased down on the final lap by Bannister. Both men broke four minutes, with Bannister’s winning time, 3:58.8, being his personal best.
Landy said afterward, “When I looked ’round in the final back straight and he was still with me, I knew it was curtains.”
Bannister later said that Vancouver had been a more satisfying race than the celebrated one at Iffley Road because it was a victory achieved against a great competitor and not merely against a clock. Three weeks later, he won another important race, the 1,500 meters at the European championships.
He retired in December, having opened the floodgates for myriad milers to come.
Over the next decade, the record for the mile was reduced to 3:54.1. In 1975, the 3:50 barrier was breached for the first time, by John Walker of New Zealand, and in 1999 Hicham El Guerrouj, a Moroccan, set the current world record of 3:43.13. Had they been in the same race, El Guerrouj would have beaten Bannister by more than 100 meters. (The Russian Svetlana Masterkova holds the women’s record of 4:12.56.)
As it happened, the first week of May 1954 changed Bannister’s life in more ways than one. On the day before the race, he met Moyra Jacobsson, a painter and the daughter of Per Jacobsson, the Swedish economist who became managing director of the International Monetary Fund. They married the next year.
Bannister liked to point out that she didn’t really understand what this running business was all about. “For a time,” he said, “my wife thought I had run four miles in one minute.”
She survives him his other survivors include two sons, Clive and Thurstan and two daughters, Erin and Charlotte.
In addition to his medical career — he became director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London — Bannister, from 1971 to 1974, served as the unpaid chairman of the British Sports Council, a government-sponsored organization that helped build and maintain sports facilities, and from 1976 to 1983 he was president of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Recreation, an umbrella group, founded in 1958, dedicated to disseminating new findings in sport science and promoting their applications.
How Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy raced to break the four-minute mile
Sir Roger Bannister, the first athlete to break the four-minute-mile barrier, died on Saturday aged 88. He is being remembered as a trailblazer who “made the impossible possible” and inspired generations of British people to take up sport.
But Bannister’s story is inextricably linked with an Australian, John Landy, the second man to run the mile in under four minutes.
Once deemed impossible, by 1954 it appeared certain the elusive four-minute barrier would be broken. Bannister, Landy and another runner, the American Wes Santee, all appeared close to the mark.
But it was Bannister, then a medical student, who did it first when he ran 3 minutes 59.4 seconds at a sports ground in Oxford on 6 May 1954. Slightly off pace with one lap to go, he managed to run his final 400 metres in just 59 seconds.
“The world seemed to stand still, or did not exist,” Bannister wrote in his book The First Four Minutes. “The only reality was the next 200 yards of track under my feet. The tape meant finality – extinction perhaps.
“I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well. I drove on, impelled by a combination of fear and pride.”
Though Bannister reached the mark first, the record only stood for about a month. On 21 June, Landy surpassed it with a time of 3 mins 57.9 seconds at a meet in Turku, Finland.
Bannister was helped during his record-breaking Oxford run by pace setters Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher and, while Landy has never questioned the legitimacy of the run, he has also maintained that he wanted to do it differently.
In an interview in 2004, Landy was asked whether he believed Bannister’s run was “illegitimate” and dismissed the suggestion. “First of all, you’ve got to think the thing was done. The four-minute mile had been run. You couldn’t undo it, right. The four-minute mile had been run, however it had been run,” Landy told the Sunday Telegraph.
“But I have never criticised it. My attitude was that if it’s a bona fide run, and said to be by the authorities, that’s it. And that’s what happened and I have never ever, nor would I ever, doubt that it was a wonderful effort.”
John Landy (left) and Ron Clarke during competition at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
But he did maintain that he was determined to do things differently from Bannister.
“My only point is, people say, would you have done it that way?” he said. “The answer is no. I wanted to run the four-minute mile myself. And I never saw it as a team business. Even though I had some very good teammates who wanted to pace me, I wanted to do it myself.
“That was not to do with whether it was right to pace or not. It was just simply that I saw it as an individual effort. And I was able to do that. I did have some help on the first lap and a half from a Finnish runner. I didn’t ask for it. Probably the good part of that is they stopped me running too fast.”
John Landy, when governor of Victoria, with Queen Elizabeth on her arrival in Melbourne in
2006. Photograph: Reuters
In any case, the first two sub-four minute runs coming so close together set the scene for a dramatic encounter between the two men in August of the same year at the Empire Games in Vancouver.
The race became known as the Miracle Mile, and more than 60 years later is still among the most famous in the history of modern athletics.
Landy lead for most of the race, with Bannister close behind. Then, at the final turn, Landy looked over his left shoulder to check where Bannister was and the British runner overtook the Australian on the right. Both men finished in under four minutes but Bannister was the winner.
A bronze statue of the moment Landy glanced around now stands outside the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, and Landy once joked that while Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back: “I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.”
In an interview in 2004 Bannister said he considered winning that race – not the Oxford run – the highlight of his career.
Bannister breaks the tape to become the first man ever to break the four-minute barrier in the mile at Iffly Field in Oxford. Photograph: AP
“I think that racing in the Olympics and Commonwealths is more important than breaking records,” Bannister said.
“Vancouver was the pinnacle of my athletics career. It is very difficult to break records during Olympic competition, but winning races was better than holding world records.”
Landy, now 87, worked for ICI Australia and at the age of 70 became governor of Victoria. At the opening of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, in his final term as governor, he passed the ceremonial Queen’s baton to the Queen.
Roger Bannister Four-minute Mile 1954
In defiance of contemporary wisdom that running a four-minute mile was impossible, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister who was, at the time, a 25-year-old medical student, made the ‘impossible’ possible by running four quarter-mile laps on a cinder track, at what is now the Iffley Road Sports Complex, in Oxford in 3 minutes 59.4 minutes. In so doing, he beat the world record, of 4 minutes 1.4 seconds, set by Swedish athlete Gunder Hägg in Malmö in 1945 but, by breaking through the seemingly impenetrable four-minute barrier, became a yardstick for every middle-distance runner on the planet ever since.
Bannister employed two pacemakers, his friends Christopher Brasher and Christopher Chataway, who were both highly accomplished athletes in their own right. Urged along by Bannister, Brasher led for the first two laps, before giving way to Chataway Bannister, meanwhile, soldiered on in second place, on the shoulder of the leader, before making his finishing effort heading down the back straight on the final lap, which he needed to complete in under 59 seconds.
That he did and, pale and drawn after his extertion, his own words, ‘leapt at the tape like a man taking his last desperate spring to save himself from a chasm that threatens to engulf him.’ He collapsed, exhausted, in fact, almost unconscious, into the arms of his Austrian coach, Franz Stampfl. Norris McWhirter, soon to be commmisioned to compile ‘The Guiness Book of World Records’ with his twin brother, Ross, announced the result as soon as he said ‘three minutes’ pandemonium broke out and Bannister, Brasher and Chataway set off on a gleeful lap of honour.
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A Brief History of the Sub-4-Minute Mile
In early June, Reed Brown, a Texas high school senior, became the tenth U.S. high schooler in history to run the mile in under four minutes. In so doing, he joined a once-exclusive club whose membership has doubled in the last three years.
Once upon a time, the four-minute mile seemed as elusive as the two-hour marathon barrier is now&mdashparticularly for a teenager. When Lukas Verzbicas accomplished the feat in 2011, he was only the fifth high school athlete to go sub-four since Jim Ryun first did it in 1965. Now, including Brown, five high schoolers have done it since 2015. (This is all the more astounding when you consider that not a single high schooler managed to break four from 1967 to 2001.)
And it&rsquos not just the kids who seem to be running faster these days. According to a Track & Field News list, 487 Americans had run a sub-four-minute mile as of June 3, 2017, and 2016 was the year with the most new additions to the list (27), followed by 2015 (24), 2013 (23), and 2012 (also 23). At this point, it&rsquos almost more surprising to hear about prominent male American distance runners who haven&rsquot gone sub-four. (Not that we&rsquod ever needlessly expose such accomplished athletes as Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, or Dathan Ritzenhein, but. )
In honor of this recent glut of middle-distance speedsters, here&rsquos a brief chronology of notable dates and accomplishments in the history of the sub-four-minute mile.
May 6, 1954: Paced by his friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, 25-year-old medical student Roger Bannister runs 3:59.4 on the Iffley Road Track in Oxford, England, becoming the first human to run a sub four-minute mile. (The track has since been renamed the Roger Bannister Running Track.)
June 21, 1954: Less than six weeks after Bannister&rsquos historic feat, Australian John Landy runs 3:58 at a track meet in Finland, throwing down the gauntlet.
August 7, 1954: The Empire Games in Vancouver, Canada, pits the two titans against one another in an event billed the &ldquoMiracle Mile.&rdquo Bannister outkicks Landry to win the first race where two men run under four minutes. Unfortunately for Landry, the moment when Bannister passed him on the final turn is immortalized in a bronze statue.
June 1, 1957: Don Bowden becomes the first American to go sub-four, running 3:58.7 in Stockton, California.
June 5, 1964: Jim Ryun, a 17-year-old junior at Wichita East High School in Kansas, becomes the first high schooler to break the four-minute barrier. He would do it five more times before graduating, and still holds the second-fastest time ever run by a high school athlete (3:55.3). Ryun, who went on to win an Olympic silver medal in the 1,500 meters (Mexico City, &rsquo68) is also the only American to hold the world record in the mile during the sub-four era.
August 12, 1975: Twenty-one years after Bannister&rsquos transcendent run, John Walker of New Zealand becomes the first man to break 3:50, going 3:49.4 in Gothenburg, Sweden. Apparently, it took some time for the feat to sink in. In an interview, Walker recalls: &ldquoIt wasn&rsquot until I got back to the hotel room and settled down with a couple of beers that the phone started ringing from all over the world&mdashthen I realized what I&rsquod done.&rdquo
July 17, 1979: Future IAAF president Sebastian Coe sets a new mile world record (3:48.95) and initiates what would become a decade of British dominance in the mile. Coe later lost and regained (and then lost and regained again) his record to arch-rival Steve Ovett. Between the two of them, Ovett and Coe went on to win six Olympic medals at the &lsquo80 and &lsquo84 Olympic Games, in the 800 and 1,500 meters.
July 7, 1999: At the Golden Gala track meet in Rome, Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj (3:43.13) narrowly edges out Noah Ngeny (3:43.40) of Kenya, when the two men run what remain the first and second fastest mile times ever recorded. A year later, Ngeny returned the favor by pulling off a huge upset and passing El Guerrouj in the final meters of the 1,500-meter Olympic final. Consolation for El Guerrouj: two golds (1,500 meters, 5,000 meters) at the 2004 Olympics. Also, seven of the top-ten fastest mile times ever run.
May 25, 2001: At the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, Alan Webb, a senior South Lakes High School in Virginia, runs 3:53.43 to break Jim Ryun&rsquos 36-year-old record. As a professional, in 2007, Webb went on to set the current U.S. mile record: 3:46.91.
May 27, 2017: At the Prefontaine Classic, 16-year-old Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen (3:58.07) becomes the youngest person ever to run a sub four-minute mile. Remarkably, he had two older brothers competing at the same meet, both of whom also ran sub-four.