Roger Bannister never won an Olympic medal. He nevertheless remains one of the most important figures in track and field history.
Sixty years ago today, the speedy Englishman set a world record and more importantly broke the four-minute mark in the mile. After failing to medal at the 1952 Olympics, the Oxford grad contemplated quitting. Winds on May 6, 1954 compelled him to dropout of the race so that he could go for four minutes on another try. But he reconsidered and the rest is history.
On the cinder track, Bannister ran splits of 58 seconds, one minute, one minute and three seconds, and, on the last quarter mile, 58 seconds.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile,” the announcer proclaimed to an anxious crowd gathered at Oxford University’s track. “First, number forty one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which–subject to ratification–will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire, and World Record. The time was three…” The crowd, knowing what that number signified, drowned out the announcer’s next words.
Runners had erased nearly thirty seconds off the world-record time in the century preceding Bannister’s miracle mile. Within a few months, Australia’s John Landy eclipsed Bannister’s mark. Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj holds the current world record in the mile at 3:43, which he set in 1999.