Skip to content

70 years: Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile

  • Home
  • Posts
  • 70 years: Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile
Authored by Rex Cleaver
Published on 6th May, 2024 3 min read

70 years: Roger Bannister and the Four Minute Mile

70 years ago today (06/05/2024), a British medical student, Roger Bannister, etched his name into the annals of sporting history by accomplishing what was once deemed impossible: becoming the first person to run a mile in under four minutes.

Long deemed the proverbial holy grail of middle-distance running, the four-minute mile had obsessed athletes for decades. At the time of Bannister’s attempt, the previous record of four minutes and 1.4 seconds had remained unbroken for over nine years. Indeed, many commentators and athletes questioned whether breaking through the four-minute barrier was physically possible. After countless attempts by athletes around the world, on 6 May 1954, the four-minute barrier was finally broken by Bannister at the Iffley Road track in Oxford.

Bannister had been training for the Commonwealth Games, having previously come fourth in the 1500m final during the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. During his studies at Oxford, Bannister was able to use his medical knowledge to examine the mechanics of running and so devise a rigorous training regime for himself.

The day on which he broke the record was marred by unfavourable weather, to the point that the race was almost cancelled. Nevertheless, Bannister and five others were eventually given the go-ahead, setting off at 6:00pm. The stadium announcer for the race was Norris McWhirter, who later went on to co-publish and co-edit the Guinness Book of Records. He teased the crowd by delaying his announcement of Bannister's race time for as long as possible:

"Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event nine, the one mile: first, number forty-one, R. G. Bannister, Amateur Athletic Association and formerly of Exeter and Merton Colleges, Oxford, with a time which is a new meeting and track record, and which—subject to ratification—will be a new English Native, British National, All-Comers, European, British Empire, and World Record. The time was three..."

The roar of the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement. Bannister's time was 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.

Bannister later recalled not realising the importance of what he had achieved until the next day, when he saw himself featured on the front page of every major British newspaper.  

After competing in the Commonwealth Games, Bannister retired from athletics in late 1954 to concentrate on his medical career. Bannister later became an accomplished neurologist, specialising in the study and treatment of the human nervous system. Bannister was knighted in 1975 and died in March 2018, aged 88.

To mark the 70th anniversary of his record-breaking run, Oxford University is hosting a community ‘mass mile’ through the centre of the town. It is also inviting runners to compete at the same Iffley Road track where Bannister pushed sporting boundaries to new limits.

You can watch Bannister’s iconic achievement below, courtesy of the BBC archive.  

Authored by Rex Cleaver

Rex Cleaver

Rex is an Editorial Assistant at British Online Archives

Share this article

Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

Get Social

Back to Top