Aaron Hostetler Sports Editor
This week is very significant in the history of Track and Field. On May 6, 1954, British athlete Roger Bannister became the first person to break the 4-minute mark for the 1 mile race.
Bannister once was a student at the University of Oxford, as well as at St. Mary’s Medical School in London. He became famous for winning multiple British Track Championships, as well as the European title in the 1,500-meter race. In the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, he ran the 1,500 coming in fourth place, which disappointed him and pushed him to train harder for the future. His famous accomplishment took place two years later at the Iffley Road track for Oxford’s annual track meet, where he was a representative of the English Amateur Athletic Association. Records from Encyclopedia Britannica state that Bannister ran the mile race in a time of 3:59.4, and had broken the current world record at the time, which was held by Gunder Hagg of Sweden with a record of 4:01.3. RunnersWorld reports how this was a remarkable feat in history, as the world had anticipated this accomplishment since before the 1930’s, when huge crowds would gather for “mile of the Century” races. Runners everywhere would attempt and come close to breaking the record during these races, but none would succeed until Bannister performed the impossible.
The weather seemed to be a particular disadvantage on the day of the event, and Bannister wasn’t feeling up to running the mile that day, with the fear that he would not give a good performance. The extremely high winds were enough for him to consult his coach Franz Stampfl about not competing, who told him “If you pass it up today you may never forgive yourself for the rest of your life,” as reported in The Guardian. This convinced him otherwise, and Bannister went on to run the best race of his life. Just before the race started, the winds calmed down just enough to give Bannister a winning chance. When the race started, Bannister ran the first lap in 58 seconds, and the second in 1:58. When he finished the third lap at 3 minutes and 1 second, he sprinted the final lap to the point of collapse. With a winning time of 3:59.4, he had made a huge difference with only less than a second left.“Mainly after setting the record I felt relief because I had wanted to justify my training methods following my disappointment in Helsinki, and I realized I had done it which is something I am very pleased to have achieved,” said Bannister to Guinness World Records, as he recounted his experiences years later.
Bannister’s time as the world record holder did not last long for him, as Australian athlete John Landy beat his time 46 days later on June 21st, 1954, with a new mile record of 3:57.9. Landy had come close to beating the 4-minute time before, with him performing multiple races in a time of 4:02. He eventually explained that he thought it wasn’t possible, and that breaking the record felt like “Trying to through a brick wall.” After Bannister set his record, Landy was thus inspired, and took his place as the record holder for the world’s fastest mile, which he held for three more years.
However, this did not take away from the amazing performance that Bannister was known for, and is recorded in the history books. His example was a definitive moment that helped inspire many future runners and athletes to follow in his footsteps. He paved the way for future record holders like Hicham El Guerrouj, Sifan Hassan, and Eluid Kipchoge. According to Guinness World Records, Guerrouj was from Morocco and currently holds the mile record for his performance in Rome, with a time of 3 minutes 43 seconds, on July 7th, 1999. Hassan was from Ethiopia, and currently holds the fastest mile time for women, with a time of 4 minutes and 12 seconds, which she obtained at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco in July of 2019. Although everybody was gratefully surprised by Eluid Kipchoge’s record-breaking sub 2-hour marathon this past October, his remarkable accomplishment may not have happened if it wasn’t for the inspiration of Roger Bannister.Following the successful feat, Bannister became a household name worldwde, and then recounted his experience in his 1955 book The four minute mile. He went on to graduate from St, Marys in 1954, and earn a medical degree from Oxford in 1963 as a Neurologist. He was knighted in 1975 by Queen Elizabeth II, and died of Parkinson’s disease on March 3rd, 2018 at the age of 88. Bannister’s record will continue to go down in history books as the first official account of any runner breaking the 4-minute mile barrier, which is why he is so significant to the world of sports and why his accomplishment will always endure the test of time.