The 60th Anniversary of the Four-Minute Mile


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By Niall McArdle

Sixty years ago this week athlete Roger Bannister made history by breaking the four-minute barrier for the mile at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. He ran the distance in 3:59.4.

The breaking of the four-minute barrier had been the goal of several athletes for several years. It was known as the Everest of the track. The mile was – and still is – the premiere men`s event in track and field.

Bannister (left) and pace-setter Chris Brasher
Bannister (left) and pace-setter Chris Brasher

In marked contrast to today’s athletes (amateur in name only), there was something wonderfully quaint about Bannister and his contemporaries. As a child he survived the London Blitz, and in 1954 he was practicing as a junior doctor and had little time for training, so his achievement was something of a surprise. He was actually working at his hospital in London on the morning of the race, and had to take the train to Oxford in the afternoon.

The race was broadcast live on BBC Radio and commented on by 1924 Olympian Harold Abrahams. The stadium announcer was Norris McWhirter.

Bannister`s record only lasted a matter of weeks. On June 21st his great rival John Landy ran the mile in 3:57.9.

170px-Bannister_and_Landy

The two men competed together in Vancouver on August 7th at British Empire and Commonwealth Games. The race was dubbed “The Miracle Mile“. Landy was in the lead but at a crucial moment looked back over his left shoulder while Bannister surged past him on the right. When a bronze sculpture was commissioned to commemorate the race, Landy quipped “While Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back, I am probably the only one ever turned into bronze for looking back.“

Bannister went on to work as a neurologist; it is a cruel irony that he now suffers from Parkinson`s Disease.

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4 thoughts on “The 60th Anniversary of the Four-Minute Mile

  1. A nice tribute Niall. As you say, those atheletes were far removed from today’s professional runners, with their sponsors, full-time coaches, and travelling doctors. Ah…days gone by. (I was only two at the time)
    Regards from Norfolk, Pete.

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    1. thanks pete. it’s amazing to me that so many people know about the 4 minute mile and bannister’s achievement, even people who are not big sports fans. I have no idea who holds the WR for the 1500m now (or what the time is), but Roger Bannister is one of those names that will never be forgotten.

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