#tbt: Roger Bannister, SI's first ever Sportsman of the Year

Wednesday December 3rd, 2014

In anticipation of Sports Illustrated’s 2014 Sportsman of the Year, this week’s Throwback Thursday honors SI's inaugural sportsman: Sir Roger Bannister, who ran the first sub-four-minute mile. 

Roger Bannister on the cover of the January 3, 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Mark Kauffman/SI

After failing to win a medal in the 1500m race at the 1952 Olympics, Bannister decided to become the first to run a mile under four minutes, a feat many thought impossible. But as several runners, including Australian John Landy, approached the four-minute mark, it simply became a matter of who would break the record first. 

The day came on May 6, 1954, during a meet at Oxford, the 25-year-old’s alma mater. Due to the windy conditions, Bannister didn’t decide to race until half an hour before it was set to start, and by then, a BBC cameraman was already there to capture the event. 

At 6 p.m., Bannister and his pacemakers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway took off into the lead. Bannister ran the four laps around Iffley Road Track and collapsed into the arms of spectators as he crossed the finish line. The announcer then declared that Bannister had set a new world record with a time of 3:59.4. 

Chris Brasher, Roger Bannister and Chris Chataway celebrating after breaking the four-minute mile in 1954.
Norman Potter/Central Press/Getty Images

The record lasted only 46 days until John Landy recorded a time of 3:57.9. The two later met in August at the Commonwealth Games in a race known as the “Miracle Mile.” Landy led by 10 yards in the third lap, but on the last bend, Bannister caught up and passed Landy on the right, just as the Australian looked over his left shoulder. The moment between the world’s two fastest men was later immortalized in a statue in Vancouver. 

In December of that year, Bannister announced his retirement to focus on his medical studies. He went on to become a distinguished neurologist, as well as the first chairman of the Sports Council. 

Dr. Roger Bannister working in the lab at Harvard University in 1962.
Popperfoto/Getty Images

A month after his retirement, Sports Illustrated honored Bannister by putting him on the cover of the magazine as their inaugural Sportsman of the Year:

“The cast of candidates was tremendous—and yet, when it came to picking the Sportsman of the Year, the compelling choice was the man who set himself an athlete's severest challenge, the four-minute mile; who met the challenge superbly (in exchange for a couple of small, inexpensive medals), and then turned to the next challenge, that of a strenuous profession; the miler-turned doctor, Roger Bannister.”

Roger Bannister, 60 years after becoming the first man to run a mile under four minutes.
Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo

You can see all of this year's nominees here and vote for your choice for SI Sportsman here.

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