Sub-four minute mile history maker Sir Roger Bannister dies aged 88

Sir Roger Bannister, the first athlete to run a sub-four minute mile, has died aged 88.

The athlete broke the four-minute barrier in 1954 - a feat many at the time thought was not humanly possible.

He clocked 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds over four laps at Oxford's Iffley Road track on May 6, 1954, to break the 4-minute mile - a test of speed and endurance that stands as one of the defining sporting achievements of the 20th century.

"It's amazing that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have broken the 4-minute mile," he said in an interview in 2012.

Sir Roger, who went on to pursue a long and distinguished medical career, suffered from Parkinson's disease in recent years.

Credit: AP

A statement released on behalf of Sir Roger's family said: "Sir Roger Bannister, died peacefully in Oxford on 3rd March 2018, aged 88, surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them.

"He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends."

It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible. I'd like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.

Roger Bannister
Sir Roger took part in the Olympic torch relay for the London 2012 Olympics Credit: AP

The incredible run on that day in Oxford captured the public's imagination, making him a global celebrity and lifting the spirits of a nation still suffering through postwar austerity.

Swedish runner Gundar Haegg's mile time of 4:01.4 had stood for nine years, but in 1954 Bannister, Australian rival John Landy and others were threatening to break it.

"As it became clear that somebody was going to do it, I felt that I would prefer it to be me," he said.

He also wanted to deliver something special for his country.

"I thought it would be right for Britain to try to get this.

"There was a feeling of patriotism. Our new queen had been crowned the year before, Everest had been climbed in 1953. Although I tried in 1953, I broke the British record, but not the 4-minute mile, and so everything was ready in 1954."

Sir Roger Bannister met Winston Churchill shortly after his historic run Credit: AP

He ran the first of four laps in 57.5 seconds, then 60.7, completing the first half mile in a total of 1:58.2. After the third, he would have to complete the final lap in 59 seconds to break the record.

"The world seemed to stand still, or did not exist," he wrote in his book, "The First Four Minutes."

"The only reality was the next 200 yards of track under my feet. The tape meant finality - extinction perhaps. I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well. I drove on, impelled by a combination of fear and pride."

After Bannister crossed the finish line, the announcer read out the time: "3..."

The rest was drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

IAAF president Sebastian Coe said Sir Roger inspired a generation of athletes with his "Herculean" achievement.

Coe, who broke the mile world record three times from 1979 to 1981, is now president of the International Association of Athletics Federations.

He described Bannister as a friend who was clever and modest in equal measure.

"It's clearly a massive loss for our sport and for many, many of us that would consider ourselves to have been friends with Roger," Coe told Press Association Sport.

"We will miss him dramatically. He's one of the cleverest people I've ever met but, in equal measure, probably one of the most modest and what he did was Herculean.

"There can't be an athlete of my generation, particularly an athlete focusing on middle-distance, that wasn't almost entirely inspired by what he did.

"When we joined our athletics clubs, Roger Bannister was the person that they were talking about.

"And it was only actually when we compared training diaries and what he was doing at that stage in his career that I realised what an enormous talent he was. Because it wasn't really done on modern-day training techniques, it certainly wasn't done on synthetic surfaces and it was done off the background of a war-time diet."