Remembering The Man Who Broke 4-minute Mile Barrier

March 9, 2018 GMT

To appreciate the monumental significance of running a 4-minute mile, consider that fewer people have managed to do it since Roger Bannister broke the barrier in 1954, than have reached the summit of Mount Everest. And none of them have done it in the manner of Bannister, who died last week at 88. He ran his historic 3:59.4 mile on May 6, 1954 at Oxford, England. A 25-year-old medical resident, Bannister worked his morning rounds that day, had lunch with two of his teammates to discuss strategy in which they would serve as “rabbits” to pace him, and then headed to the track. Another great British runner, Sebastian Coe, observed that Bannister reached the milestone under what today would be considered primitive conditions. His studies reduced his training to just 28 miles a week. The spikes in Bannister’s leather shoes, Coe said, weighed more than a pair of modern running shoes. Bannister set the record on a cinder track, in high winds. That’s a world apart from the routines of elite runners today, who compete in a world of scientific training, high-tech tracks and shoes and full-time dedication to the sport. Now, the 4-minute mile is an entry standard for that elite status. The world record for the mile is 3:43.13, set by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999. According to The New York Times, in the same race, El Guerrouj would have beaten Bannister by 100 meters. Bannister’s record lasted just 46 days. Australian John Landy bested it in June 1954. Bannister beat Landy in a race later that year and retired at 25 to complete his medical training. A neurologist, he went on to become the director of the Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London. After his running career, Bannister led a distinguished life as a hospital and university president and the volunteer leader of an international effort to apply scientific principles to athletic training. But he always will be best remembered for that 3:59.4.