"Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire and World Record. The time was three..."
This is the pair of running shoes worn by Roger Bannister on 6 May 1954 during a meet between the British AAA and Oxford University at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. The meet was watched by around 3000 spectators.
Roger Bannister started his running career as a medical student at Oxford in 1946 and showed great promise as a 'miler' with 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. He did however set his training goals with the view of competing in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. The next few years were spent upping his training and competing in the AAA championships, although after the running season of 1951 ended, he avoided training until end of Spring 1952 prior to the Helsinki Olympics to conserve his energy. The 1500m final on 26 July at the Games would prove to be one of the most suspenseful in Olympic history. The race was not decided until the final few metres, Josy Barthel of Luxembourg prevailing with an Olympic record 3:45.28 with the next seven runners all under the old record. Bannister finished fourth, but had set a new British record of 3:46.30 in the process. After the games Bannister felt disillusioned with what he perceived to be, his failure at the Olympics and spent two months considering giving up running for good. However, after some thought, his resolve strengthened to become the first four-minute miler and he increased his training. Participating in consequent races he said: "made me realise that the four-minute mile was not out of reach".
Bannister began the day of his historic race at the hospital where he worked as a junior doctor in London. It was in the laboratory there that he sharpened his racing spikes and rubbed graphite on them so they would not pick up too much cinder ash. He took the train from Paddington Station to Oxford, nervous about the poor windy conditions that afternoon. Six men ran the Mile: Alan Gordon and George Dole from Oxford University and four British AAA runners - Bannister, his two pacemakers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway and Tom Hulatt.
The race began at 6pm and immediately Bannister and future Olympic gold medallist Chris Brasher took the lead with Brasher leading both the first lap in 58 seconds and the half-mile in 1:58, with Bannister behind, and Chataway behind Bannister. Chataway moved to the front after the second lap and continued to lead around the front turn until with a Herculean surge Bannister accelerated forward to take the lead with just 275 metres to go. The sheer exertion of this resulted in Bannister passing out after he crossed the finish line.
The consequent announcement was drowned out by the roar of the crowd at the point: 'The time was three.' His actual time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.
Bannister’s record was not held for long– it was beaten by his Australian rival, John Landy, forty-six days later, with a time of 3:57.9, which he maintained as a world record for over three years. Nevertheless, as Bannister once said in an interview with the Associated Press: "more people have climbed Mount Everest than have beaten the 4-minute mile.” After competing for the rest of that year, including a noteable race dubbed 'The Miracle Mile' at the Commonwealth games in Vancouver with Landy where he beat the Australian and achieved a new personal best, Bannister retired from amateur athletics to concentrate on his career as a doctor, specialising in Neurology.
As well as a distinguished career in neurological medicine, including leading academic contributions to the field of autonomic failure, he also became the first ever chair of the Sports Council and was knighted for his service in 1975. His sporting accolades gained after his athletic career include Forbes magazine naming his historic time as the 'Greatest Athletic Achievement of the 20th century'. He was also the first recipient of the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award for 1954.
The 50th anniversary of Bannister's achievement in 2004 was marked by a commemorative British 50-pence coin. The reverse of the coin shows the legs of a runner and a stopwatch (stopped at 3:59.4).
We understand that Sir Roger Bannister will be donating some of the proceeds of sale to the Autonomic Charitable Trust (ACT), a charity which raises money specifically for medical research into autonomic conditions, and some other good causes in which Sir Roger has specific interests.