Athletics: Fantasy mile rolls back the years: Mike Rowbottom watches a world-class field follow in the feat of Bannister 40 years on

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A LITTLE after two o'clock yesterday afternoon, Roger Bannister and Christopher Brasher stood at the side of the Iffley Road track, just as they had 40 years and one day earlier. Bannister, aided by Brasher's pacing, had then become the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.

On this occasion Bannister, whose subsequent medical career earned him renown as a neurologist, was half-jokingly, half-solicitously taking his fellow 65-year-old's pulse after the handicap mile which rounded off four days of 40th- anniversary celebrations. 'It's under 100,' said Bannister with a twinkle.

At first glance, yesterday's event, which brought together 10 celebrated milers aged from 39 to 65, resembled one of those computer races which attempts to evaluate how runners of different eras might have done against each other. On second glance, the fantasy gave way to reality. That unassailable opponent, time, had made his impact on a field which jointly bore a total of 21 world records, seven Olympic gold medals and one world title.

Among the thickened waistlines - Pekka Vasala, the 46- year-old Finn who outsprinted Kip Keino of Kenya to the 1972 Olympic 1,500m title, was the most rounded figure present - there were sufficient signs of athletic intent to animate the 1,000 or so spectators. The day itself was as damp as that on which the record was broken.

As Sir Roger, who by the end of the afternoon was signing programmes, books and magazine covers in the practised manner of a footballer making his way to the team coach, looked on approvingly. He was excused games. The serious ankle injury which he sustained in a car accident 19 years ago has left him unable to run. 'I can walk a certain amount on flat surfaces,' he said. 'But the accident changed my life in a lot of positive ways.'

With a cv which includes an internationally acknowledged medical career, pioneering work as a sports admin istrator, appointment as Master of Pembroke College, Oxford, knighthood, European and Empire Games championships and that record, he is hardly a man steeped in regret.

It was his task to present a 280-year-old golden guinea to the winner of the Pentland mile event. That proved to be Keino, who began with a 380-yard start over the man running the full mile, Eamonn Coghlan, who recently became the first 40-year-old to run a sub-four minute mile.

Keino, 54, received an unexpected bonus from the sponsors of pounds 1,000 for the orphanage which he has run since 1965 near his home at Eldoret. He said he had not trained since coming a close second in another handicap mile last February in Miami.

The handicapping system - devised by one Bill Snelgrove, a member of Brasher's Thames Hare and Hounds club - was always likely to be a thing of approximate worth. But on the day, no one looked as impressive as Bruce Tulloh, competing in his 1960 British Olympic vest, who finished off a 290-yard start just four seconds behind Keino, whose time for the mile minus 380 yards was 4min 2.7sec.

Tulloh, now 58, ran the London marathon last month in 2hr 47:34. 'I wasn't really pushing it too hard,' he said, with an insouciance that Bannister would have recognised.