Sir Roger Bannister: Tributes flood in for man who made impossible possible

Ben Bloom
The Telegraph
Sir Roger Bannister produced one of the greatest moments in British sporting history in 1954, according to Brendan Foster - HULTON ARCHIVE
Sir Roger Bannister produced one of the greatest moments in British sporting history in 1954, according to Brendan Foster - HULTON ARCHIVE

Sir Roger Bannister was on Sunday hailed as a “trailblazer”, who “made the impossible, possible” after the first man to run a sub-four minute mile died aged 88.

Despite juggling his work as a full-time junior doctor, Bannister achieved something that many had said was physically impossible when he clocked three minutes 59.4 seconds for the mile at Oxford University’s Iffley Road Track in 1954.

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That feat – heralded by Olympic 10,000m medallist Brendan Foster as “a great moment in British history” – cemented Bannister’s place among the most revered athletes of all time, prompting many within the sport to pay tribute to a man who served as an inspiration.

“He really was such a great pioneer,” said Paula Radcliffe, marathon world record holder.

READ MORE: Athlete Roger Bannister dies aged 88

READ MORE: Roger Bannister 1929-2018

“I was honoured to meet him and obviously like anyone in athletics, that meant a lot to me because he really was a trailblazer – in all senses, he was. Anyone in athletics, but particularly distance runners, will have been inspired by him.

“He showed what people could do. He broke down a barrier. What did on the academic side, as well, was so impressive – combining study and sport.

“I grew up hearing stories about him, learning his story, and to meet him was a real privilege.”

Mo Farah, four-time Olympic champion, said: “I’m so sorry to hear the sad news.

“I’ve met him several times throughout my career and he was always humble, supportive and encouraging. He was an inspiration to so many.”

Seb Coe, IAAF president added: “This is a day of intense sadness both for our nation and for all of us in athletics.

“There is not a single athlete of my generation who was not inspired by Roger and his achievements both on and off the track.

“He made the impossible possible. His achievement transcended sport, not just athletics.”

Bannister had begun the morning of May 6, 1954, working as usual in a hospital in London before travelling by train to Oxford.

<span>Bannister became the first person to run a sub-four minute mile</span> <span>Credit: Getty Images </span>
Bannister became the first person to run a sub-four minute mile Credit: Getty Images

By the time he lined up on Iffley Road’s cinder track, the forecast rain and wind had subsided and he was paced to the record-breaking feat by Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, who went on to co-found the London Marathon.

Brasher’s son Hugh, who is now London Marathon event director, said Bannister’s achievement puts him “at the very top” of athletics greats.

“He was running on cinder tracks, not tarmac tracks,” said Hugh Brasher. “That was basically running on dirt.

“He has to be, I believe, right at the very top of the athletics pantheon. It is often said that it was one of the greatest sporting achievements of the 20th century, so when you put it into that context, I think people start to understand it.

“Remember there had been nine years of people trying to break that record, of people saying it was physiologically impossible, but he absolutely believed about what your mind can do. If you can believe, you can do.”

After his racing career, Bannister went on to be a distinguished neurologist, working well into his eighties.

<span>Bannister's popularity transcend the sport in which he made his name</span> <span>Credit: Andrew Crowley </span>
Bannister's popularity transcend the sport in which he made his name Credit: Andrew Crowley

He also initiated the first testing processes for anabolic steroids while serving as chairman of the British Sports Council in the 1970s.

“He was really an incredible man,” said Hugh Brasher. “The legacy he left in his life, not only in athletics but also in medicine, cannot be overstated.

“It’s difficult, in a way, for us 64 years later to understand the context of it all – this is Britain, rationing had been going on, coming out of the war.

“This lifted the spirits of a nation. People said it was physiologically impossible to run under four minutes for a mile, yet Roger achieved it.

“He was incredibly erudite, incredibly well read, kind, just a wonderful, wonderful man. He was a polymath in many ways.

“To achieve what he did, and be how he was, is quite incredible.”

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