Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Roger Bannister (September 2018)

Sir Roger Gilbert Bannister, was born in Harrow on the 23rd of March 1929, was married with four children. He died on the 3rd of March 2018.
Back in the 1950’s his Personal Best times were 800/1:50.7/1500 3:43.8/Mile 3:58.8. All on cinders.

For quite a few people it might be a surprise to know that, it was not the 4 minute mile that gave him the most satisfaction but, his 40 years in medicine, particularly his research into Neuro surgery, that gave him the most satisfaction.
   However, Bannister’s feat to be the first four minute miler, when he ran 3:59.4 on the Iffley road track, Oxford on May the 6th 1954, is something that will live on for ever.
His friends at Oxford University, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, helped set it up. Brasher went through the first quarter in 57.5 and at the half he led in 1:58. 2 then in the back straight of the third lap he fell back and,from behind Bannister came Chris Chataway to take it on
It was 3.00.4 at the bell and Chataway still in attendence then, Bannister put in his lung bursting challenge, after 1500 and never let up to the finish.
       Two ‘Great’ runners since then made their comments.
Dave Moorcroft “Sir Roger’s achievement in 1954 is quite simply the most famous world record in track and field. This is because of both when he did it and how it inspired a new generation of middle distance runners around the world. It is testimony to Sir Roger that his record for the mile was the only non Olympic distance that has that kind of legacy”
         Brendan Foster “Sir Roger was the man who showed us how to break our own barriers, and he was a true gentleman too.”
         I must point out here that it should not completely overshadow the fact of the first man to do inside 3:50 and, that was John Walker of New Zeeland, who ran 3:49.4 in August 1975.
  What did Sir Roger Bannister think back in 1979 about people breaking the World record in the future “I feel a clash between Filbert Bayi and Jim Ryun would obviously produce a very fast time and a World record of 3:46” In actual fact it was not till Steve Cram ran inside 3:47 on the 27th of July 1985, with a time of 3:46.32.
The fastest miles before Bannister broke  the 4 minute barrier was by two Swedish runners Guder Haegg in 1945 who ran 4:01.3 & in 1944 Arne Andersson did 4:01.6.
         Of course one must understand that except for the exceptions, like Emile Zatopek & Gordon Pirie, people did not do the volume of training they do these days..
That was the case with Bannister, who was a medical student with limited time to train. However he did come under the good influence of Franz Stampfl, who went on to coach Brian Hewson and even Ralph Doubell, the 800 Olympic Champion of 1968.
   Bannister had several early achievements which indicated his future success.
He beat Bill Nankeville, the stylish, 4 times AAA.s Champion over a mile in 1951 and, the year before that Roger Bannister concentrated on the 800m and came 3rd in the European in 1:50.7  behind  the winner John Parlett of GB (1:50.5) and he was a close second behind 1948 Olympic 400m Champion, tall Jamaican, Arthur Wint, over half a mile.
       In Helsinki in the 1952 Olympics Bannister was 4th in the 1500 but was unprepared for heats and a final but, after that,was determined to improve a lot and, so he did with his four minute mile. He beat the next World record holder, who did 3:58.0.which  was John Landy of Australia. It was in the epic British Empire & Commonwealth  Games in Vancouver in 1954 (1,Bannister 3:48.8; 2 Landy 3:59.6; 4 Rich Furguson of Canada 4:04.6).
   The event that stands out for me, which showed what a ‘Great Competior Sir Roger  was.
It was at the Euoropean Championships over 1500 in Bern in 1954.
The 5 names behind him were excellent 1500m men ( 1Roger Bannister (GB) 3:43.8; 2 Gunner Neilsen (Denmark) 3:44.4; 3 Stanislav Jungwwirth (CSR) 3:45.4;  4 Ingvar Ericsson (Sweden) 3:46.2; 5 Werner Lueg (WG) 3:46.4; and 6 Sandor Iharos (Hungary) 3:47.0
   It was my first term, as a senior at boarding school in Norfolk, when a prefect told me Bannister had just broken 4 minutes for the mile. I did not really believe him at the time but how wrong I was..

Alastair Aitken

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