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Sir Roger Bannister - Redefining What The Human Body Can Achieve

'I gave it everything'

It is over six decades since he became the first man ever to run a mile in less than four minutes.

As with so many moments in British history, it came down to the weather. On the morning of May 6, 1954, it was raining steadily across the south of England and the wind was blowing hard.

Roger Bannister’s mood matched the skies above. Then a medical student, he was also Britain’s best middle-distance runner, whom many people were tipping to become the first man in the world to run a mile in less than four minutes.

But he was also the man everyone had predicted to win gold at the Olympic Games in Helsinki two years previously. He came fourth. The headlines screamed he was a failure.

The memory of Helsinki exacerbated his state of mind. He knew that the wind would slow him down by about a second a lap -- and the mile was four laps long.

He says: “I was feeling I would be wasting my effort to run in those circumstances with the time having to be the equivalent of 3:56; I wasn’t sure I could do 3:56.”

After doing his morning house rounds at Paddington Hospital, he caught the train to Oxford, where he was due to race against his former University team. By chance, on the same train, was his coach, Frank Stampfl. He said to Sir Roger …. “I think you can do 3:56 and if you had this potential chance and you didn’t take it you’d never forgive yourself, maybe for the rest of your life.” …. Sir Roger said in a later interview …. “And I think that idea stuck in my mind”

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