Bannister, Roger (Gilbert) 1929–
BANNISTER, Roger (Gilbert) 1929–
PERSONAL: Born March 23, 1929, in Harlow, Middlesex, England; married; wife's name, Moyra; children: four. Education: Oxford University, graduated; St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, graduated; attended Harvard Medical School.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Sutton Publishing, Phoenix Mall, Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 2BU, England.
CAREER: National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London, England, director; Pembroke College, Cambridge, master. St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, Paddington, England, trustee-delegate; Sports Council of Great Britain, chairman, 1971–74; International Council for Sport and Physical Recreation, president, 1976–83.
AWARDS, HONORS: Set world track record for running the mile, 1954; Silver Pears trophy, 1954; knighted, 1975.
The Four-Minute Mile, Dodd, Mead (New York, NY), 1955, fiftieth anniversary edition published as The First Four Minutes, Sutton (Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England), 2004.
(Editor) W. Russell Brain, Brain's Clinical Neurology, seventh revised edition published as Brain and Bannister's Clinical Neurology, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Also advisory editor for Prospect: The Schweppes Book of the New Generation, Hutchinson (London, England), 1962. Contributor to periodicals and medical journals. Clinical Autonomic Research, chair of editorial board, 1990–.
SIDELIGHTS: Roger Bannister has had a successful career as a neurologist, but the accomplishment that has rendered his name a household word is his record-breaking mile run, which he ran in 3:59.4 on May 6, 1954. The record lasted only seven weeks, until Australian John Landy completed the mile run in Turku, Finland, in 3:57.9. On August 7, 1954, the two runners faced each other in the British Empire Games; Landy was leading by ten yards at the halfway point, but the young doctor overcame him in the final stretch to win. The fledgling magazine Sports Illustrated began publishing that week and made Bannister's win its first lead story. His autobiography, The Four-Minute Mile, was published in a fiftieth-anniversary special edition titled The First Four Minutes. Times Literary Supplement contributor Michael Beloff called Bannister's memoir "the most lyrical prose description of the experience of running ever written."
Bannister came from a working-class London family. When World War II erupted, the family moved to Bath, and Bannister ran back and forth to school each day. He also ran track in high school. His academic excellence was awarded with a scholarship to attend Oxford University, where he continued to run. In 1946, while in medical school, Bannister paid a fee to run in Paddington Park, near the hospital where he worked. As Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford noted, "it had helped that he was a good sort who would go over the Magdalen Bridge to the Iffley Road track at Oxford and help shovel off the snow. This was a factor in earning him a spot on the university's third team. Certainly, he was not a prepossessing physical specimen, and in fact, for a runner, he moved with an ungainly gait, rather prefiguring Monty Python's Ministry of Silly Walks." On March 22, 1947, when Bannister was being used as a pacer for the first-team Oxford runners against their Cambridge rivals, he forged ahead to win the mile by twenty yards in a time of 4:30.8. "I knew from this day," he was quoted as saying in Nelson Cordner and Roberto Quercetani's The Milers, "that I could develop this newfound ability."
In 1948 the nineteen-year-old Bannister ran a 4:17.2 mile at the Amateur Athletics Association championships. He declined to compete in the 1948 Olympic Games in London, instead concentrating on his studies and continuing his training. In 1951, he captured the British title in the mile, and in 1952 he competed in the Helsinki Olympic Games. He finished fourth in the 1,500 meter due to fatigue, and Bannister was criticized in the press for his unconventional training methods. At the age of twenty-five, he made his record-breaking run, with his friends Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher setting the pace.
Bannister secured the European title for the 1,500 meter, then retired from competition. He completed his medical studies and spent two decades as a researcher and neurologist. After suffering injuries in a car accident, he left private practice and concentrated on research. He maintained his ties with the athletic community, however, and served on sports councils and taught. In his professional capacity, Bannister has revised W. Russell Brain's Brain's Clinical Neurology and several editions of Autonomic Failure: A Textbook of Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System.
Since Bannister set his track record, it has been broken by more than a thousand other athletes. Beloff noted that "today's professional athletes do not, like Bannister, run themselves into near unconsciousness; they spend every daylight hour honing their skills, training (often at altitude), resting, following a controlled diet, taking supplements (lawful or unlawful), receiving regular advice and treatment from specialists in human muscle and mind. They compete in ever more carefully crafted shoes (though there was victory before there was Nike), on ever more carefully created synthetic tracks more frequently than Bannister ever dreamed of—and for gold, not just for glory." Beloff could not help but wonder, "How fast would Bannister have run if his Chariot of Fire had been transported in a time machine to the new millennium and he had enjoyed all the advantages of his successors as world record holder?"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bannister, Roger, The First Four Minutes, fiftieth anniversary edition, Sutton (Thrupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire, England), 2004.
Bascomb, Neal, The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less than Four Minutes to Achieve It, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.
Cordner, Nelson, and Roberto Quercetani, The Milers, Tafnews Press, 1985.
Dennison, Jim, Bannister and Beyond: The Mystique of the Four-Minute Mile, Breakaway Books, 2003.
Exceptional Parent, July, 2004, Rick Rader, "On Running Exceptionally Fast," p. 6.
Investor's Business Daily, December 19, 2003, Michael Mink, "Roger Bannister's Record Feat; Run to Glory: He Sweat the Small Stuff toward Breaking the Four-Minute Mile," p. A3.
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, April, 2003, Ray Chaudhuri, review of Autonomic Failure: A Textbook of Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System, p. 551.
Runner's World, December, 1996, Marc Bloom, "The Single Greatest Moment" (interview), p. 50.
Sports Illustrated, December 27, 1999, Frank Deford, "Pioneer Miler Roger Bannister and Everest Conqueror Edmund Hillary Became, at Midcentury, the Last Great Heroes in an Era of Sea Change in Sport," p. 102.
Times Literary Supplement, May 14, 2004, Michael Beloff, review of The First Four Minutes.
Spokesman-Review Online (Spokane, WA), http://www.spokesmanreview.com/ (May 2, 2004), Erik Brady, "Remembering His Place in Time" (interview).