On the right track …
“However ordinary each of us may seem, we are all in some way special, and can do things that are extraordinary, perhaps until then…even thought impossible“
Sir Roger Bannister (1929-2018)
At the age of 88, Roger Bannister has died. No-one with the slightest interest in athletics needs to be reminded of his achievement on the running track, but, for any who remain ignorant of it, on 6 May 1954 he became the first person officially to run a mile in under four minutes.
It was a new world record (obviously), albeit one that was eclipsed just a month or so later by an Australian runner, John Landy. Records are made to be broken yet Bannister’s achievement remains the stuff of legend because, quite simply, the four-minute mile was the middle-distance runner’s Holy Grail and Bannister claimed its discovery. It was also done in a gloriously Corinthian spirit. Bannister was a true amateur who trained in his spare time away from his medical studies in Oxford
His two pacemakers on that day in Oxford were Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, both middle-distance runners. Brasher, who paced the first half-mile, later won an Olympic gold in the 3000m steeplechase and Chataway, who finished second at Oxford (and broke the world 5000m record later the same year) paced the remainder until Bannister’s finishing sprint. All three became household names and the two pacemakers remained firmly in the public eye, perhaps more so than Bannister, due to their mix of business, broadcasting and political careers.
It might have made sense back then, I wasn’t around so can’t tell, but it seems inconceivable to me that Bannister then lost out to Chataway to become the BBC’s inaugural Sporting Personality of the Year. To me that’s a calumny that ranks alongside The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York being kept off the 1987 UK Christmas number one spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ cover version of Always on my Mind, or Dances with Wolves getting the 1990 best film Oscar ahead of Goodfellas or Forrest Gump getting it in 1994 instead of Pulp Fiction.
Yet despite his sporting achievement, Bannister’s subsequent career as a consultant neurologist and researcher gave him greater pride if less-widespread renown. As a physician he appears to have been universally liked by his patients and medical peers and, from reading obituaries about him and their ‘below the line’ comments, what stands tall is his fundamental decency. That really appeals to me as my profile on this blog states “Values decency over achievement” in Bannister’s case he had both. In spades!
So, it’s limerick-as-obituary time again …
When you ran past the track’s finish line
The stopwatch read three-fifty-nine.
Thus the four-minute mile
Was beaten in style,
But now, sadly, you’ve run out of time