40 Years Ago, Bannister Flew over Cinders in 4-Minute Mile

By Ap | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), May 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

40 Years Ago, Bannister Flew over Cinders in 4-Minute Mile


Ap, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


After 40 years, about the only thing that hadn't changed at the Iffley Road track was the weather.

The track had been resurfaced. The students who ran on it wore the latest in brand-name athletic shoes. A vending machine sold energy drinks.

But the flag was still there. The same Cross of St. George that fluttered in the wind and rain above the nearby church 40 years ago was being battered and soaked again Thursday.

"There was rain throughout the day," Roger Bannister told 11 other world mile record-holders as he strolled around the track where he broke the four-minute barrier on May 6, 1954. "It was quite a thing, managing to do it in weather like this in May."

The others, including Jim Ryun, Australia's Herb Elliott, New Zealanders Peter Snell and John Walker and the current world record-holder, Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, stood in the rain as Bannister recalled the day he became one of the biggest sporting celebrities of the 20th century.

He remembered gazing up at the flag about 30 minutes before the race. The wind had died down.

"I thought, `If I don't make the attempt today, I may never forgive myself,' " Bannister said. "I may pull a muscle tomorrow. I may fall under a bus, and we knew that (Australian John) Landy and others were going to attempt it. Those were the thoughts in my mind when the gun fired."

The gun actually fired twice - because of a false start - before Chris Brasher led the field with laps of 57.5, 60.7 and 62.3 seconds. The time was 3:00.4 with one lap to go.

"I heard the time three minutes," Bannister said. "So I knew if I could do a last lap in 59 seconds, that would be the record."

The winning time was 3:59.4, and the fans went wild when it was announced. A seemingly impenetrable barrier had been broken.

"That was thought to be impossible," Morceli said. …

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