Sir Bannister, Roger Gilbert
On May 6, 1954, at Oxford, England, Roger Bannister became the first runner in history to run a one mile race in under 4 minutes, crossing the finish line in 3.59.4 minutes. Bannister's achievement was also notable because his daily training program never exceeded 48 minutes per day.
The world record had stood at 4.01.2 minutes for nine years at the time of Bannister's achievement. Many experts believed that the 4-minute barrier might be physiologically impossible to break, as there had been concerted efforts by a number of talented runners to break the mark in that period. The 4-minute mile had a particular allure due in part to the symmetry of four minutes, four laps, and 60 seconds or less for each.
Bannister was a 25-year-old medical student when he broke the 4-minute barrier. His achievement was all the more remarkable as he was concluding his medical studies and as a result, was under significant academic pressure throughout all of 1953 and 1954. To ensure that his studies were not compromised by his athletic training, Bannister ran during his one-hour lunch period. He compressed his running workouts into sessions of 48 minutes per day, where he focused upon intense interval training to build a sustained finishing kick. Bannister's methods, born out of necessity, were in stark contrast to the usual training undertaken by mile runners at the time, where weekly totals of 70 miles (115 km) or more were common.
Bannister's two main rivals in the quest for the first four minute mile were Australian John Landy and American Wes Santee. Unlike the modern world of elite track and field competition, where there are numerous opportunities for athletes to compete against one another in any given year, Bannister, Landy, and Santee challenged the 4-minute barrier independent of one another. Landy lowered the record set by Bannister to 3.58.2 in June 1954, setting the stage for a titanic battle at the British Empire Games in Vancouver in August 1954. Landy led Bannister with less than 300 yds (270 m) to the finish line, when Bannister unleashed a remarkable sprint at the precise moment that the front running Landy turned his head to see where Bannister was positioned. Bannister beat Landy with a time of 3.58.0 minutes; Landy also ran under 4 minutes to finish second. These games were the only time that Landy and Bannister would ever appear in the same race.
After winning the European 1,500-m championships later in 1954, Bannister retired from competition. He became a well respected neurologist and sports administrator; Bannister headed the British Sports Council in the 1970s, where he was a key figure in an early campaign against the use of anabolic steroids in sport.