He died on March 3, 2018, the athlete who will always be remembered for breaking the 4-minute mile. Known as the ‘last of the gentleman athletes’ Roger Bannister was a 25-year-old medical student, and with eyes closed and mouth agape, he broke the four-minute mile barrier at Oxford's Iffley Road track on the grey, golden evening of May 6, 1954. This, one of the greatest sports stories, had unfolded at a meet between Oxford University and Amateur Athletic Association. "Three minutes, 59.4 seconds," the announcer, famously, had tried to tell the crowd but they only heard the word "three" before drowning him out. But for most of his 88 years of extraordinary achievement as ground-breaking neurologist, scholar, academic, drug-testing pioneer, sports administrator and athlete, he was implored to recount just those 3 minutes 59.4 seconds of it. This proud father of four - and grandfather of 14 - had once said that he never stopped feeling lucky to have been "the right man at the right time in the right race" but that he had also learned to appreciate its symbolic and long-lasting significance, even if it never did cease to amaze him. "It's a small part of my life, and the importance of the things I've done are centred on medicine and neurology. So in that sense, the achievement is overrated.” Indeed, if he had won the Olympic 1500m title in Helsinki in 1952 (instead, he finished fourth), he may not have attempted his sub-four-minute quest at all.
Roger Bannister in a recent photo.
In terms of his training, Bannister was no great revolutionary. He did only what he felt was enough to beat his main rival in the race to becoming the first sub-four-minute miler, the Australian John Landy, who actually supplanted Bannister's new landmark in Finland 46 days later. Yet Bannister then defeated his great rival in the "Miracle Mile" race, an epic showdown between the two sub-four minute men at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver later in 1954, a feat he actually considered greater than his Iffley Road monument. In that race Bannister clocked 3.58.8 sec, while Landy finished at 3.59.6 sec, both of them below the 4 minute historic mark.