News Archive

News Archive

Roger Bannister’s Dream Mile turns 50

‘Be proud to be an Englishman’ was one of the papers’


When on that infamous May 6, 1954, Norris McWhirter announced the results on

Iffley Road in Oxford, the spectators only heard the first digit: 3. “I

am certain that not a single person was able to understand the 59.4 seconds.

The crowd just wanted to hear the three,“ said McWhirter in an interview

on BBC. More than 1,000 spectators turned the small stadium that is part of

Oxford University into a madhouse. They had become witnesses to one of the most

noteworthy and prominent track world records of all time—the dream mile.

The Englishman Roger Bannister was the first one to run the exactly 1,609.3

metre long distance under four minutes: a time of 3:59,4 minutes was


People involved in athletics had been talking about the dream mile for

almost 20 years—it was just a question when and who the first person

would be. “The four-minute-mile had something special, something magical

about it. It was its symmetry,“ declared Norris McWhirter, who, by the

way, is also one of the founders of the Guinness Book of World Records. One

mile is a little bit more than four rounds on the track. The four minutes fits

it perfectly. Norris McWhirter is no longer around to experience today’s

(Thursday) 50-year anniversary of the dream mile. He died recently of a heart

attack while playing tennis.

Another important companion of Roger Bannister passed away a little over a

year ago: Chris Brasher. The later Olympic gold medallist in the 3000m (1956)

and founder of the London Marathon was the first pace maker on that notorious

6th of May. Despite the windy and rainy weather, the then 25-year-old Roger

Bannister had his mind set on trying to set the world record. He was running

out of time. The Australian, John Landy, especially appeared to be capable of

breaking the four-minute-mark. The tension before the race was so great that

Brasher first caused a false start. After the second attempt, he led his friend

Bannister exactly according to plan to the 1000m mark. Then Chris Chataway took

over the leader role for another 350 metres before Bannister stormed off to his

dream time.

The athletics author Heinz Vogel wrote in his volume “Record Breakers

in Track and Field“: After year-long discussions for, against, and about

the ’dream mile’, it hit like a bomb all over the world. The

headlines in the leading London papers read ‘An English victory over the

world,’ or ‘Be proud to be an Englishman’. At a meeting of

the honourable Oxford Union Society, a motion was made to interrupt the meeting

for 3:59.4 minutes to honour Bannister’s record. The famous Swede, Gunder

Hägg, who himself was a great mile runner in the period from 1942 and 1946

and holder of the world record up to that May 6, 1954 (4:01.3 minutes) said:

“I was convinced that this intelligent Brit would be the first to run a

time under four minutes.” At the time, Roger Bannister was studying

medicine at Oxford and later worked as a neurologist.

”Back then, the dream time was practically waiting to be run. I was at

the right place at the right time and capable of doing it,” Roger

Bannister told the news agency AP. “My race became a symbol for taking on

a challenge. I like to look at this world record as a metaphor not only for

sport, but for life and all of its challenges.”

In honour of the anniversary, a sport fest is being celebrated today on

Iffley Road in Oxford. Roger Bannister, now a spectator, will be the centre of

attention. At 6 p.m., at exactly the same time as 50 years ago, the starting

gun will send off the international field on a mile race. Today, the four

minutes will not pose a hurdle in Oxford.