Bannister at 80, back on the track of history

The first man to run a mile in under four minutes talks about his feat as he reaches another milestone. Ian Griggs reports

It was the record that could not be broken, smashed by the man who would not be beaten. Gazing over Oxford's Iffley Road track, Sir Roger Bannister yesterday cast his mind back 55 years to the roar of the 1,500-strong crowd who cheered him on as he did the impossible, proving that a man could run a mile in under four minutes.

Ahead of his 80th birthday, which is a week tomorrow, Sir Roger also remembered how he nearly didn't do the run at all. Conditions were bad. But he ran, spurred on by fear that his rival, John Landy, might snatch history from him.

"I knew I had to do it as soon as possible, which is why I had to do it in conditions that were far from ideal. But I decided that if I did not take the opportunity, I would not get another chance," he recalled. "The feeling when I crossed the line was one of great relief as I had not been successful on previous attempts."

Today the track, which has been named after him, has a modern synthetic surface replacing the rough cinder track. He visits rarely. "I don't have enough time. When I stand here, I do remember the crowd. Although, if everyone who's told me they were there when I did it really had been, there would have been enough to fill Wembley Stadium."

On its now fast-flowing turns, he might have flown even faster: he estimates that the old track probably added about four seconds to his final world-record-shattering time of 3:59 seconds.

That it lasted barely two months before Landy shaved two seconds off is of little consequence. "As the French say: 'Après moi, le déluge.' The important thing was to do it first."

He might have missed his place in history: he came close to retiring from running after the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, where he finished just out of the medals in the 1,500m final.

The failure prompted him to question his future in athletics and he spent a couple of months wondering whether to give up entirely. In the end, he fixed on a new goal – to be the first man to run the mile in under four minutes. In doing this, he changed the world of athletics and became a living legend.

While his own competitive running days are long over, he maintains a keen interest in the sport, and is looking ahead to the London 2012 Olympics. He regards the early 1980s as a golden age for British running, with the success of Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram. He hopes the UK can reclaim some of its former glory: "There was a step-change in the ability of those runners and they were winning Olympic medals. I don't think we have got back to that yet.

"We are currently training about 35 potential medal-winning distance runners, so there is a lot being done," he said. "Very few people realise the ferocity of competition among top-class track and field athletes. I think our chances of winning some medals are very high and I would hope that we will win around seven in the track and field events next time."

The current record for the mile stands at 3:43, set by the Moroccan runner Hicham El Guerrouj in 1999. Sir Roger believes the mile could be completed in 3:30 one day.

Arts and Entertainment
Supporting role: at the Supreme Court, Rhodes was accompanied by a famous friend, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch
booksPianist James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to stop the injunction of his memoirs
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan
filmDheepan, film review
Sport
Steven Gerrard scores for Liverpool
sport
News
Tattoo enthusiast Cammy Stewart poses for a portrait during the Great British Tattoo Show
In picturesThe Great British Tattoo Show
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?