On this day in history : 6th May 1954 – 25-year-old medical student, Roger Bannister, becomes the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes….

Roger Bannister (United Press International) – Public domain

It was whilst at Oxford University that Bannister caught the attention of coaches when he was acting as a pacemaker for a mile race in 1947…. Normally a pacemaker will drop out before the end of a race but Bannister proved that he had the stamina to continue…. He beat the rest of the field by 20 yards….

For Bannister, nothing was more important than his studies and because of this he missed running the 1500m at the London Olympics in 1948…. He took part in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, taking fourth place in the 1500m – something the British Press were particularly critical of…. This made Bannister determined to break the 4-minute mile – at the time believed by many to be an impossible record to achieve – but one several athletes were striving for, all wanting to be the first to succeed….

Roger Gilbert Bannister, born on the 23rd of March 1929 in Harrow, Middlesex was the man to just that…. At Iffley Road Sports Ground, Oxford on the 6th of May 1954 he ran the 4-lap race on a cinder track in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds….

He may have only held the record for 46 days – his time was beaten by Australian John Landy, who ran 1.5 seconds faster at Turku, Finland – but he had secured his place in the history books….

In August 1954 he and Landy completed against each other at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games at the Vancouver Exhibition; both men finished the race in under 4 minutes – the first time this had ever happened – it became known as the ‘Miracle Mile’….

Statue of Roger Bannister and John Landy in Vancouver – Photo by Paul Joseph CC BY-SA 3.0

At the end of summer 1954, after winning the 1500m at the European Championships in Bern, Switzerland, Bannister stunned the World by announcing his retirement…. Now having graduated medical school his focus was on his career….

He went on to become a leading consultant neurologist and served for many years as director for the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London….

The man who had prepared his own training regime from what he had learned at medical school did not retire from the sporting world though…. Between 1971 and 1974 he served as chairman of the British Sports Council and between 1976 and 1983 President of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Recreation….

Bannister’s achievements were recognised in 1975 with a Knighthood and he became Sir Roger Bannister…. Sadly he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2011 – and died on the 3rd of March 2018 at the age of 88….

Sir Roger Bannister, 2009 – Photo: Pruneau/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

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