Running History Roger Bannister Breaks the 4 Minute Mile Part 1

About the history of Roger Bannister breaking the four minute mile in his own words.


Roger Bannister Breaks 4-Minute Mile (1954)

Since the turn of the century, countless men had striven toward a seemingly unattainable goal--running a mile in less than four minutes. In 1945 Sweden's Gunder "The Wonder" Hagg had run a 4:01.4. Eight years later, no one had come that close again.

In the interim, Roger Bannister, an English medical student, had dedicated himself to becoming the first to break the barrier. Using his medical knowledge, Bannister trained alone, deliberately avoiding the coaches and managers who ruled the sport. By 1953 he had reduced his time to 4:03.6.

Eventually he was able to slow his pulse rate to less than 50 (the average man's is 72); each beat of his heart pumped an above-average amount of oxygen. When his pulse increased under the strain of running, he was thus able to build up a tremendous oxygen supply and combat exhaustion.

For years, the "dream mile" had been scientifically plotted by track coaches and physiologists. It would be run in Scandinavia in 68 deg. weather. There would be no wind. The track would be hard, dry clay. A large, enthusiastic crowd would be present to provide a psychological boost. The first quarter would be clocked the slowest, the final quarter the fastest.

Bannister broke all these rules. May 6, 1954, was a chilly day in Oxford. The wind had been blowing near gale force all day, keeping the crowd to less than 1,500 spectators. The cinder track was still damp from an afternoon shower as Bannister and two of his British Amateur Athletic Association teammates lined up against three milers from Oxford University.

Chris Brasher set the pace for Bannister, as planned, but it was too fast; Bannister's first quarter was a torrid 57.5 and he hit the halfway mark at 1:58.2. Brasher, exhausted, dropped out, but not before Chris Chataway, again according to plan, sprinted into the lead, pulling Bannister onto his heels. Three hundred yards from the finish, Bannister began his kick. Lengthening his stride, head rolled back, neck painfully arched, he tore into the tape and collapsed, all but unconscious.

Then the announcement came over the loudspeaker: "A time which is a new meeting and track record, and which, subject to ratification, will be a new English native, a British national, a British all-comers, European, British Empire, and world record. The time was three minutes. . .fifty-nine and four-tenth seconds."

Bannister regained full consciousness but was momentarily color-blind. His pulse rate was 155 and wouldn't become normal for three hours. He appeared briefly on London television that evening, then hosted Brasher and Chataway at a nightclub, where they broke training with steaks and champagne until 5:00 A.M. The same morning, he was back in class at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School.

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