Roger Bannister: Breaking the Four-Minute Mile

Roger Bannister crosses the finish line after breaking the four-minute barrier in the mile.
Roger Bannister crosses the finish line after breaking the four-minute barrier in the mile. (Image via Pinterest)

On this date in 1954, Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes.

Here are some things you may not have known about Bannister and his achievements.

Roger Bannister was born in 1929 in Harrow, England.

He began his running career in 1946 while studying medicine at Oxford University. A year later, he ran a mile in 4 minutes, 27 seconds despite training for only an hour and a half each week.

He declined consideration for the 1948 British Olympic team, and set his sights on running the 1,500 meters at the 1952 Olympics.

However, his light training regimen doomed him in the Olympics, where a preliminary heat race was contested, and left him sapped in the final. He finished a disappointing fourth, despite setting a British record of 3 minutes, 46.3 seconds in the shorter distance.

The 1,500 meters is about 100 meters short of a mile, but it’s seen as the metric equivalent in international track and field.

Despite not being contested in the Olympics, the mile was then, as today, a popular event. It is the only non-metric event for which world records are still kept.

The mile gained popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries as a gambling event in England. The events would attract large crowds of spectators and gamblers. The first recognized record in the mile was set in 1913 by American John Paul Jones with a time of 4 minutes, 13.4 seconds. Among the early world record holders in the event was Paavo Nurmi. Known as “The Flying Finn,” Nurmi won nine Olympic gold medals and was selected by Time magazine as the greatest Olympian of all time in 1996.

In 1945, Sweden’s Gunder Hagg broke his countryman Arne Andersson’s record by running a mile in 4 minutes, 1.4 seconds. That record still stood the morning of Bannister’s attempt.

Bannister took a morning train from London, where he was working as a junior doctor, to Oxford, despite rainy and windy conditions. The winds dropped just before the meet and Bannister decided to make his attempt on the record.

Bannister and one of his pace-setters, Chris Brasher, took the lead immediately in the four-lap race. Brasher led the first lap in 58 seconds with Bannister right behind him. They remained in the same order after a half-mile in 1:58. The other pace-setter, Chris Chataway then took the lead and led Bannister on the third lap at 3:01. Bannister finally took the lead with a little more than half a lap remaining and ran the final lap in just under 59 seconds.

At the time, the times were not posted immediately on a scoreboard as they are today. The crowd had to wait for the time to be relayed from the timers to the public-address announcer. The announcer that day worked the crowd into a frenzy by stretching his announcement as long as possible. Here is how the result was announced …

“Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number 41 R.G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which — subject to ratification — while be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers,  European, British Empire and World Record. The time was three …”

As soon as the word three was announced the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement. Bannister’s final time was 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

Bannister held the world record for only 41 days, the shortest tenure with the record for that distance. It was broken by Australia’s John Landy, who ran the distance in 3 minutes, 58 seconds. Bannister would go on to beat Landy at the 1954 Commonwealth Games, but never regained the record. He retired from running at the end of the 1954 season to concentrate on his work as a physician specializing in neurology.

He was knighted in 1975, and retired as a doctor in 1993.

He turned 87 years old on March 23.

The record in the mile is currently held by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, who ran the distance in 3 minutes, 43.13 seconds in 1999. The women’s record is 4 minutes, 12.56 seconds, set by Svetlana Masterkova of Russia in 1996.

Our question: Where were the 1952 Olympics held?

Today is Military Spouse Day in the United States, International No Diet Day and Teachers’ Day in Jamaica.

It’s National Nurses Day, International Tuba Day and No Pants Day.

It’s the birthday of psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who was born in 1856, Russian Tsar Nicholas II, born in 1868, baseball legend Willie Mays, who is 85 today and actor George Clooney, who is 55.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1961, the top song in the U.S. was “Runaway” by Del Shannon.

The No. 1 movie was “101 Dalmatians,” while the novel “Hawaii” by James Michener topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


Follow us on Twitter, Facebook or our website.

Also, if you’re enjoying the show, please consider supporting it through

Please rate the show on iTunes by clicking here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.