four-minute mile

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Christopher William Brasher (1928—2003) athlete, journalist, and businessman


Harold Maurice Abrahams (1899—1978) athlete and civil servant


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The running of a mile within or under four minutes. This was an elusive—and some believed unattainable—goal for many years. Swede Gunder Haegg held the mile record of 4 minutes 1.4 seconds for nine years until Englishman Roger Bannister broke through one of sport's most enduring sporting barriers when he ran the distance in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, at the University of Oxford's Iffley Road track on 6 May 1954. Over the previous athletic season, Bannister had aimed to achieve this feat in an international rivalry with Australian John Landy and US runner Wes Santee. Landy lowered the record within six weeks. A combination of this international rivalry with the application of systematic training regimes, and tactical running that included the use of pacemakers, built up to the successful attempt by Bannister. His running and training partners were Chris Brasher and Christopher Chataway (both graduates of the University of Cambridge; Bannister was a graduate of the University of Oxford when he became the first man to run the four-minute mile, while completing his medical education in London). In the historic race, Bannister was running for the Amateur Athletics Association in a token match against the Oxford University Athletics Club, and in a BBC documentary (The Four-Minute Mile, May 2004) Chataway reflected on the event as ‘the last hurrah of amateurism’; on the fiftieth anniversary of the breaking of the barrier, the record for the mile stood at 3 minutes 43.13 seconds, set in Rome in 1999 by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, and still the record ten years later. Not featuring in international competitions or the Olympic programme, the distance is decreasingly likely to be challenged. Multiple perspectives on Bannister's achievement are collected in a special issue of Sport in History (2006). See also Abrahams, Harold Maurice; Brasher, Christopher William; trope.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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