Roger Bannister: A real pioneer

Roger Bannister, the first man to run an “impossible” sub-four-minute mile, died yesterday aged 88. 

The monochrome footage of his great achievement, realised on May 6, 1954, on a cinder track he helped build at Oxford, shows an athlete who, by today’s toned and bulked-up standards, would be dismissed as an under-prepared waif.

However, what might be more difficult to appreciate is that when he conquered the athletic world’s Everest he was an amateur, juggling work as a full-time junior doctor with world-beating running. 

Today, that double-jobbing seems as impossible as a sub-four-minute mile must have seemed in 1953. 

After all, sort is now a business then, in theory at least, it was a mere expression of joy and character.

It does not demean Bannister’s great achievement to point out that, 64 years later, today’s record of 3:43:13, set by Hicham El Guerrouj, is almost 20 seconds faster than his. 

Bannister refused to be cowed by perceived wisdom and therefore his greatest achievement was psychological. 

He showed that, as the advertising slogan says, impossible is nothing.


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