Roger Bannister March 23 1929 – March 3 2018
It was sad to hear the news of Sir Roger Bannister passing away on 3rd March 2018. Although our Oxford walking tours don’t go out as far as the Iffley Road, people often ask if they can visit the location where on May 6, 1954 a 25 year old Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under 4 minutes. The location is about a 15/20 minute walk from Oxford’s historic centre but you can indeed visit the track where Sir Roger came in a whisker under 4 minutes for the mile. (3:59.4 to be exact). A truly seminal location in sports history.
Bannister achievement was global news with The New York Times declaring he had achieved “one of man’s hitherto unattainable goals”. Incredibly Bannister retired from sports later in 1954 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.”
Roger Gilbert Bannister was born on March 23, 1929, in Harrow. Roger claimed that he started running for the thrill of it and out of fear, claiming he did so to steer clear of bullies and in response to the World War II air-raid sirens that were an all too familiar sound as he grew up. “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.”
Bannister’s record was, in fact, a briefly held one. On June21 1954, just a few weeks after breaking the four-minute mile, John Landy beat Bannister’s record coming in at 3:58. This created the perfect stage for a showdown between the two athletes at the Empire Games in Vancouver. On Aug. 7, before 35,000 spectators, in a race that became 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 came in under four minutes, with Bannister’s winning time, 3:58.8, being his personal best.
Following a long career as a neurologist. Roger passed away on 3rd March in Oxford, aged 88. A sad loss of a true Oxford legend.