Roger Bannister’s last mile

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | March 4, 2018 0

Farewell to the great Sir Roger Bannister, athlete, physician and humanitarian who has died in Oxford surrounded by his family ‘who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them.’

In 1954 at Iffley Road Track, Oxford this junior doctor became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. He went onto become a distinguished Neurologist researching and treating Parkinson’s Disease from which he has died at the age of 88. His time of three minutes 59.4 seconds, set at Iffley Road sports ground in Oxford on 6 May 1954, stood as a record for just 46 days but his place in athletics history was assured. His achievement was all the more remarkable because he had minimal training and was working full time as a junior doctor.

Bannister viewed running as something to be done in his spare time away from the demands of his medical studies at the University of Oxford, but that did not prevent him reaching the biggest stages in the sport. He was considered for the British team at the 1948 London Olympics – just two years after taking up running as a 17-year-old – but did earn a place in the team at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, where he set a new British record en route to fourth in the 1500 metres final.  

Bannister, who used his medical knowledge to devise his own training regime and investigate the mechanical aspects of running, turned his sights on becoming the first person to run inside four minutes for the mile after the Olympics and twice went close to achieving his goal in 1953. American Wes Santee and Australia’s John Landy were also targeting the record when Bannister finally achieved the feat in the spring of 1954.

Bannister was helped in his achievement by Sir Christopher Chataway – who beat Bannister to the inaugural BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award later that year – and Chris Brasher, who acted as pacesetters. Brasher, who went on to co-found the London Marathon, died in 2003 after a short illness and Chataway died from cancer in 2014. 

Bannister also won gold over the same distance at the 1954 Commonwealth Games and later became a leading neurologist. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011. A statement from his family said: “Sir Roger Bannister, died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March, aged 88, surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them. “He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.”

IAAF president Lord Coe, who ran a mile world record of 3:47.33 in 1981, said: “This is a day of intense sadness both for our nation and for all of us in athletics. There is not a single athlete of my generation who was not inspired by Roger and his achievements both on and off the track.”

Bannister went on to become a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, before retiring in 1993. When asked whether the 4-minute mile was his proudest achievement, he said he felt prouder of his contribution to academic medicine through research into the responses of the nervous system. Bannister was patron of the MSA Trust. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011. He continued to run to keep fit until he broke his ankle in a car accident in 1975, the same year he was knighted.

He revealed he had the neurological disorder Parkinson’s disease in an interview in 2014. “I have seen, and looked after, patients with so many neurological and other disorders that I am not surprised I have acquired an illness,” he said at the time. “It’s in the nature of things, there’s a gentle irony to it.”

Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister, CH, CBE (23 March 1929, Harrow, London  – 3 March 2018, Oxford ) English middle-distance athlete, doctor and academic, who ran the first sub-four-minute mile.

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