Mile News

The Photo that Captured the First Sub-4 Minute Mile

March 09, 2018

Beyond the significance of Bannister’s triumph, this was one of the very first action photographs to record the climactic moment of a major sporting event.

By David Davis,

Sir Roger Bannister died over the weekend at the age of 88 and, as to be expected, the glowing obituaries focused on his epochal Mile of May 6, 1954, when he shattered the 4 minute barrier on Oxford University’s Iffley Road track.

In this day and age, when Usain Bolt goes 9.58 for the 100 meters and elite marathoners appear poised to slip under the 2 hour barrier, Bannister’s achievement seems quaint, a relic from when the Olympics were an all-amateur affair and PEDs were not yet part of the vernacular.

But it’s worth remembering that, at the time, many experts took for granted that the 4 minute Mile was physically impossible. The world record was 4:01.4, set in 1945 by Sweden’s Gunder Hägg.

“Most people considered running four laps of the track in 4 minutes to be beyond the limit of human speed,” wrote Neal Bascomb in The Perfect Mile, his excellent account of Bannister’s quest. “It was foolhardy and possibly dangerous to attempt. Some thought that rather than a lifetime of glory, honor, and fortune, a hearse would be waiting for the first person to accomplish the feat.”

Emerging from the horrors of Nazism and atomic warfare, Bannister’s breakthrough came to symbolize something more than just another athletic milestone. Never mind that he utilized two rabbits (Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher) to pace him through the early stages of the race. Never mind that two other Milers, American Wes Santee and Australian John Landy, were also approaching the coveted first sub-4. Like the inaugural ascent of Mt. Everest just a year previous, Bannister’s 3:59.4 Mile provided a much-needed dose of optimism and pride for a world attempting to find its post-war footing. He was “the runner who redefined the possible,” as Roger Robinson wrote in Runner’s World. (The accomplishment has held up, too: more than three times as many people have since summited Everest as have run a 4 minute Mile.)

Continue reading at:

Tags: roger bannister (175) , norman potter (2)

Facebook Comments

Return the Mile to prominence on the American & worldwide sports and cultural landscape by elevating and celebrating the Mile to create a movement.

Bring Back the Mile as the premier event in the sport, and increase interest in and media coverage of the Mile for both those who love the distance as well as the general public.

Bring Back the Mile to celebrate the storied distance and to recognize the people who made and make the Mile great and to promote Mile events and the next generation of U.S. Milers.

Bring Back the Mile to create a national movement for the Mile as America’s Distance,
to inspire Americans to run the Mile as part of their fitness program and to replace the 1600 meters at High School State Track & Field Meets across the country.

Become a Mile Maniac member or a BBTM sponsor today! Join us, and go Mile!

Join Us

Thanks for joining the movement and being a Mile Maniac. We'll keep you up to-date with our Mile wires as well as exclusive contests and opportunities. Help us spread the word by sharing our site and joining us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!