Lifestyle Health

Monday 23 April 2018

Frank Greally: Roger Bannister, the history maker

Roger Bannister, who recently revealed he is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease
Roger Bannister, who recently revealed he is suffering from Parkinson’s Disease
Roger Bannister runs the first sub four minute mile in London in 1954

Frank Greally

A milestone of athletics will be celebrated tomorrow, May 6th to mark the 60th anniversary of Sir Roger Bannister's sub four minute mile on May 6th, 1954 at Iffley Road in London.

On that famous day Bannister, helped by friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, knocked spots off an athletic milestone that many thought could never be broken.

A decade ago I had the privilege of hosting An Evening with Sir Roger Bannister in Dublin to mark the 50th anniversary of his achievement. It was a wonderful weekend. Sir Roger also attended the All-Ireland Schools Track and Field Championships in Tullamore.

In a new book, Sir Roger vividly describes that evening six decades ago: "At one-and-a-half laps I was still worrying about the pace. A voice shouting "relax" penetrated to me above the noise of the crowd. I learnt afterwards it was (Franz) Stampfl's. Unconsciously, I obeyed.

"I barely noticed the half-mile, passed in 1:58. At three-quarters of a mile my effort was still barely perceptible; the time was 3.07 minutes and the crowd was roaring. Then I pounced past Chataway, 300 yards from the finish.

"There was a moment of mixed excitement and anguish when my mind took over. There was no pain, only a great unity of movement and aim. Time seemed to stand still. My body must have exhausted its energy, but it still went on running just the same. The physical overdraft came only from greater willpower.

"With five yards to go, the finishing line seemed almost to recede. Those last few seconds seemed an eternity. The faint line of the finishing tape stood ahead as a haven of peace after the struggle. The arms of the world were waiting to receive me only if I reached the tape without slackening my speed.

"I leapt at the tape like a man taking his last desperate spring to save himself from a chasm that threatens to engulf him.

"Then my effort was over and I collapsed almost unconscious, with an arm on either side of me. It was only then that real pain overtook me. I felt like an exploded flashbulb.

"The stopwatches held the answer. The announcement came from Norris McWhirter, delivered with a slow, clear diction: 'Result of Event Eight: One mile. First, R. G. Bannister of Exeter and Merton Colleges, in a time which, subject to ratification, is a new Track Record, British Native Record, British All-Comers Record, European Record, Commonwealth Record and World Record ... Three minutes ... '

"The rest was lost in the roar of excitement. I grabbed Brasher and Chataway and together we scampered round the track in a burst of happiness. We had done it, the three of us!"

Longford native Ray Flynn set an Irish mile record of 3:49.77 on July 7th, 1989 at the Bislett Games in Oslo back - a record that still stands. Flynn, who now lives in Tennessee, USA, ran a total of 89 sub four minute miles. His great Irish rival, Eamonn Coghlan, broke set a world indoor mile record of 3:49.78 in Madison Square Garden in 1983.

The current world mile record held by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco is 3:43.13.

Tomorrow in Kerry village of Farranfore the local Farranfore & Maine athletic club will host a series of mile races – for runners of all abilities to mark the 60th anniversary.

Two Kerry athletes – Jerry Kiernan and Frank Conway have run a sub-four minute mile during their careers. Registration is at 4Park Business Centre in Farranfore.

For more information, contact: 087-8260139 or

The extract is from the recently published 'Twin Tracks', by Roger Bannister, published by The Robson Press

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