In 1954, at the age of 25, Roger Bannister made headlines around the world as the first person to run a mile under 4 minutes.
Bannister’s 3:59:4 mile unlocked the door to what was possible in track — both physically and psychologically.
It had long been thought that a sub 4-minute mile was far from achievable and perhaps deadly for those who tried.
British Prime Minister Theresa May led the tributes to the former athlete, who later became one of Europe’s leading neurologists and was made a knight.
“Sir Roger Bannister was a great British sporting icon whose achievements were an inspiration to us all. He will be greatly missed,” she said on Twitter.
At the same time Bannister was training on the track, he was going to school to become a doctor. At the end of 1954, he retired from sports to pursue his medical career.
Long after his record had been broken, Bannister said he considered his contributions to neurology more satisfying.
Former Associated Press writer Marcus Eliason, shared his memories of interviewing Bannister to mark the 30th anniversary of his historic track achievement.
“In 1984, while stationed in London for The Associated Press, I phoned Roger Bannister to request an interview for the 30th anniversary of his becoming the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. His initial response was: “Is there still any interest in this?”
“One has only to look at the worldwide reaction to his death at 88 to grasp what an understatement that was. And the interview remains one of the most enjoyable I ever had.”
Bannister also accomplished another first in 1954: He was picked by Sports Illustrated to be the magazine’s first Sportsman of the Year.
As long as it took to break the 4-minute barrier, Bannister’s record lasted only 46 days. Australian John Landy beat it by running a 3:57:9 mile.
Landy and American miler Wes Santee had been threatening to be the first to break the 4-minute mark.
“As it became clear that somebody was going to do it, I felt that I would prefer it to be me,” Bannister said in an AP interview.
The current record for the mile is 3:43:13. It has been held since 1999 by Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj. He is the 13th record holder.
Bannister died Saturday in Oxford, where he lived in a modest home just minutes from the track where he made history.