In defiance of contemporary wisdom that running a four-minute mile was impossible, on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister who was, at the time, a 25-year-old medical student, made the ‘impossible’ possible by running four quarter-mile laps on a cinder track, at what is now the Iffley Road Sports Complex, in Oxford in 3 minutes 59.4 minutes. In so doing, he beat the world record, of 4 minutes 1.4 seconds, set by Swedish athlete Gunder Hägg in Malmö in 1945 but, by breaking through the seemingly impenetrable four-minute barrier, became a yardstick for every middle-distance runner on the planet ever since.
Bannister employed two pacemakers, his friends Christopher Brasher and Christopher Chataway, who were both highly accomplished athletes in their own right. Urged along by Bannister, Brasher led for the first two laps, before giving way to Chataway; Bannister, meanwhile, soldiered on in second place, on the shoulder of the leader, before making his finishing effort heading down the back straight on the final lap, which he needed to complete in under 59 seconds.
That he did and, pale and drawn after his extertion, his own words, ‘leapt at the tape like a man taking his last desperate spring to save himself from a chasm that threatens to engulf him.’ He collapsed, exhausted, in fact, almost unconscious, into the arms of his Austrian coach, Franz Stampfl. Norris McWhirter, soon to be commmisioned to compile ‘The Guiness Book of World Records’ with his twin brother, Ross, announced the result; as soon as he said ‘three minutes’ pandemonium broke out and Bannister, Brasher and Chataway set off on a gleeful lap of honour.
Watch Roger Bannister’s Four-minute Mile