man to break the four-minute mile,
Roger Gilbert Bannister was
born in Harrow, Middlesex, England, on March 23,
1929. His family moved to Bath soon
after outbreak of World War II.
As he was growing up he showed a talent for
running, and won several races. In 1946 he earned
a scholarship to Oxford University. Upon
graduation from Oxford he began studying medicine
at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in
Although his studies took up a
considerable amount of his time, Bannister was
able to continue his "track career." In
1951 he captured the British title for the
1500-meter. At the 1952 Helsinki Olympics,
however, he finished a disappointing fourth in
the same event.
Despite his less-than-stellar
performance at Helsinki, Bannister was convinced
that it was possible for a man to break the
four-minute mile. His medical studies helped him
research the mechanical aspects of running, and
he developed a training method that focused on
consistency rather than long, arduous workouts.
Despite his unorthodox methods, his time
gradually improved over the next couple of years.
On May 6, 1954, at a track meet
in Oxford, Bannister set out to prove that his
methods had not been in vain. The run would not
be a true race, however. Instead, Bannister
enlisted the assistance of two friends, Chris
Brasher and Chris Chataway, to act as pacemakers.
Bannister allowed Brasher to take the initial
lead and set a consistent, easy pace. When
Brasher began to tire, Chataway took the lead.
Then, with 200 yards to go, Chataway backed off
and Bannister sprinted across the line, setting a
world record of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.
Although Bannister's record was
broken by Australian John Landy a month or so
later, Sports Illustrated rated
Bannister's accomplishment as one of the most
significant athletic feats of the 20th century
(along with the climbing of Mount Everest). At
the British Empire Games in Vancouver later that
same year, Bannister met Landy in a head-to-head
mile race, and won with a time of 3:58.8 (Landy
ran a 3:59.6). Britain awarded Bannister with the
Silver Pears Trophy, which recognizes the most
outstanding British achievement in any field.
Having broken the four-minute
mile mark, Bannister returned to his medical
studies and subsequently became an accomplished
neurologist. He continued running until 1975,
when he broke his ankle in a car accident and was
forced to give up the sport. He was knighted in
Bannister's autobiography, First
Four Minutes, was published in 1955; it was
later reprinted as Four-Minute Mile.
Academy of Achievement www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/ban0bio-1
World War II
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