On This Date in Sports May 4, 1954: The Four-Minute Mile

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

At a track meet at Oxford University, Roger Bannister records a mile run in under four minutes, setting a long-sought-after benchmark. Bannister’s record time of 3:59.4 was launched with a strong run of 57.5 seconds on the first quarter-mile lap, finishing with a 58.9 second run on the last lap. Gunder Hagg of Sweden held the previous world record of 4:01.4, established in 1945.

Roger Bannister was born in Harrow, England, on March 23, 1929. Learning to run while attending the City of Bath Boys School, Bannister was an alternate for the 1948 track team at the Olympics in London but pulled out when he felt he was too young to compete against the best in the world. He would compete at the 1952 games in Helsinki, finishing fourth in the 1500M in a British Record time of 3:46.30. After graduating from the University College School, Roger Bannister enrolled in medical school at Oxford University and remained a competitive runner while studying to become a surgeon.

As long as the mile has been run, people have looked to run it in under four minutes. According to legend, James Parrot achieved a four-minute mile as early as 1770. Some speak of a man known only as Weller setting the record in 1796, while American Glenn Cunningham ran a mile in under four minutes in an unofficial workout in 1920.

The historic moment came at the historic Iffley Road Track at Oxford University. With running partners Chris Brasher and Christ Chataway, Roger Bannister set a fast early pace at 57.5 seconds over the first lap. Bannister needed 60.7 seconds for the second lap and ran the third lap in 62.3 seconds before a 58.9 second run on the fourth lap to complete the first four-minute mile in a time of 3:59.4.

Bannister’s record lasted just 46 days when he was bested by Australian runner John Landy in a meet in Finland, running a time of 3:58. In August, the two four-minute mile runners faced each other at the British Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. Both runners ran the race in under four minutes, with Bannister passing Landy in the final moments to win with a time of 3:58.8.

Roger Bannister would win the first-ever Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year due to his achievements. He later was knighted by the queen and went on to have a nearly 40-year career as a neurosurgeon.