They said it couldn't be done, but Roger Bannister didn't listen to them. Fifty–five years ago, he proved that it could be done.
On May 6, 1954, the 25–year–old Bannister made history at Iffley Road Track in Oxford, running a mile in less than four minutes.
Announcer Norris McWhirter teased the crowd of 3,000 by drawing out the announcement of the results:
"Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event 9, the one mile: 1st, No. 41, 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 3 ..."
The roar of the crowd drowned out the rest of the announcement of the time — 3:59.4.
Bannister's record stood for less than seven weeks. Australian John Landy broke the record in Finland with a time of 3:57.9. In August, the two men met in a showdown in Vancouver, B.C., that would have evoked memories of the Seabiscuit–War Admiral horse racing "Match of the Century" nearly 16 years earlier if only Landy and Bannister had been in the race. But they were joined by some other runners who were equally talented — just not as fast on that day.
Even so, Bannister and Landy dominated. Landy led most of the way, but Bannister caught him and passed him at the end. Bannister's time of 3:58.8 was not quite fast enough to break Landy's mark, but he claimed the record in the "metric mile" (1,500 meters) at the European Championships three weeks later with a time of 3:43.8.
Bannister then retired from competitive running to devote his attention to his medical studies.
It has been said that the assertion that the four–minute mile was impossible was really a myth. Bannister himself refuted it in his memoir. He and others claimed that, because of improvements in training and conditioning, the four–minute mile might have fallen earlier if not for the interruption of World War II.
What is really remarkable, track fans say, is that Bannister achieved the sub–four–minute mile on very low mileage training by today's standards.