Feature

The modest runner who raced into history

Sir Roger Bannister is slightly ambivalent about the record he set over half a century ago.

Sir Roger Bannister is slightly ambivalent about the record he set over half a century ago, said Jane Fryer in the Daily Mail (U.K.). In 1954, at age 25, he became the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. The 2,000-strong crowd at the Iffley Road running track in Oxford, England, went wild as he crossed the finish line. “I thought all the fuss might last a day, or a week, or a month, but it’s gone on for years,” he says. “And at some stages it’s been very difficult for people to take seriously what else I was doing.” That “what else” has included a brilliant career as a neurologist and as an author of the definitive book on nervous-system diseases. Bannister, now 83, was working as a junior doctor when he took part in the famous Oxford race, and could only squeeze in 45 minutes of training a day. “But it was all about quality, not quantity—so I didn’t waste time jogging, ever.” Bannister knows he would never have set any records if he were competing today, as professional athletes have to train around the clock and don’t have time for a distracting second career. “If I’d had to give something up, it would always have been running, never medicine. Medicine was my life.”

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