Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister, CH CBE (23 March 1929 – 3 March 2018) was an English former athlete best known for running the first mile in less than 4 minutes.
Bannister started his running career at Oxford in the autumn of 1946 at the age of 17. He had never worn running spikes previously or run on a track. His training was light, even compared to the standards of the day, but he showed promise in running a mile in 1947 in 4:24.6 on only three weekly half-hour training sessions.
He was selected as an Olympic "possible" in 1948 but declined as he felt he was not ready to compete at that level. However, he was further inspired to become a great miler by watching the 1948 Olympics. He set his training goals on the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
In 1949, he improved in the 880 yards to 1:52.7 and won several mile races in 4:11. Then, after a period of six weeks with no training, he came in third at White City in 4:14.2.
He increased his attention to training and it paid dividends, as he won a mile race in 4:09.9 on 30 December. Then in 1951 at the Penn Relays, Bannister broke away from the pack with a 56.7 final lap, finishing in 4:08.3. Then, in his biggest test to date, he won a mile race on 14 July in 4:07.8 at the AAA Championships at White City before 47,000 people. The time set a meet record and he defeated defending champion Bill Nankeville in the process.
In the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Bannister set a British record in the 1500 metres, but did not win the medal he expected.
After his failure at the 1952 Olympics, Bannister spent two months deciding whether to give up running. He set himself on a new goal: to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. Accordingly, he intensified his training
On 2 May 1953, he made an attempt on the British record at Oxford. Paced by Chris Chataway, Bannister ran 4:03.6, shattering Wooderson's 1945 standard. "This race made me realize that the four-minute mile was not out of reach," said Bannister.
He finally reached his goal on May 6th 1954 at Iffley Road Track in Oxford, with Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher providing the pacing. When the announcer declared "The time was three...", the cheers of the crowd drowned-out the details of the result, which was 3 min 59.4 sec.
Bannister's record only lasted 46 days, and he was the first to admit that the 4-minute barrier had no actual significance. More notable was that he had reached this goal with so little training, while practising as a junior doctor.
Bannister went on to become a distinguished neurologist and Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, before retiring in 1993.
He also became the first Chairman of the Sports Council (now called Sport England) and was knighted for this service in 1975. Under his aegis, central and local government funding of sports centres and other sports facilities was rapidly increased, and he also initiated the first testing for use of anabolic steroids in sport.
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.
"The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win."
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle--when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
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