5 Mar 2018

Athletics legend Sir Roger Bannister dies

8:53 am on 5 March 2018

Sir Roger Bannister, the first person to run a mile in under four minutes, has died at the age of 88.

His time of three minutes 59.4 seconds, set at Iffley Road sports ground in Oxford on 6 May 1954, stood as a record for just 46 days, but his place in athletics history was assured.

Sir Roger Bannister after completing his record breaking mile.

Sir Roger Bannister after completing his record breaking mile. Photo: BBC

Bannister also won gold over the same distance at the 1954 Commonwealth Games and later became a leading neurologist.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2011.

A statement from his family said "Sir Roger Bannister, died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March, aged 88, surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them.

"He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends."

IAAF president Lord Coe, who ran a mile world record of 3:47.33 in 1981, said: "This is a day of intense sadness both for our nation and for all of us in athletics.

"There is not a single athlete of my generation who was not inspired by Roger and his achievements both on and off the track."

Legendary New Zealand runner Sir Peter Snell said Sir Roger was an inspiration to him.

The gold medal Olympian told Morning Report that even though he knew Sir Roger was ill, the news of his passing was extremely sad.

Sir Peter said he was 15 when the four-minute mile barrier was broken, and he says it was still a significant moment in sports history.

Life on the track

Bannister viewed running as something to be done in his spare time away from the demands of his medical studies at the University of Oxford, but that did not prevent him reaching the biggest stages in the sport.

He was considered for the British team at the 1948 London Olympics - just two years after taking up running as a 17-year-old - but did earn a place in the team at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, where he set a new British record en route to fourth in the 1500 metres final.

Bannister, who used his medical knowledge to devise his own training regime and investigate the mechanical aspects of running, turned his sights on becoming the first person to run inside four minutes for the mile after the Olympics and twice went close to achieving his goal in 1953.

American Wes Santee and Australia's John Landy were also targeting the record when Bannister finally achieved the feat in the spring of 1954.

Bannister was helped in his achievement by Sir Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher, who acted as pacesetters.

Sir Roger Bannister (centre)  alongside pacesetters Chris Chataway (right) and Chris Brasher when he broke the mile world record

Sir Roger Bannister (centre) alongside pacesetters Chris Chataway (right) and Chris Brasher when he broke the mile world record Photo: Supplied

Brasher, who went on to co-found the London Marathon, died in 2003 after a short illness and Chataway died from cancer in 2014.

Australian John Landy bettered Bannister's record the following month with a time of 3:57.9.

The men's mark has tumbled over the years, with Britons Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram each holding the record at least once in the 1980s.

The current mile world record is held by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, who ran a time of 3:43.13 seconds in Rome on 7 July 1999.

At the end of 1954, Bannister retired from athletics to pursue his medical studies full-time and later became a consultant neurologist.

He continued to run to keep fit until he broke his ankle in a car accident in 1975, the same year he was knighted.

He revealed he had the neurological disorder Parkinson's disease in 2014.

"I have seen, and looked after, patients with so many neurological and other disorders that I am not surprised I have acquired an illness," he said at the time.

"It's in the nature of things, there's a gentle irony to it."