Childhood & Early Life
Bannister was born in Harrow, England, into a working class family. He started exhibiting talent in running very early and attended Vaughan Primary school in Harrow and was later educated at City of Bath Boys School.
He wanted to achieve university education but his parents could not afford to educate him in an elite university which is why Bannister aspired to win a scholarship to one of the top-notch universities and study medicine.
Besides being an ace on the running track, Bannister was an exceptionally studious youngster. His efforts won him a scholarship to Oxford University and he went to medical school at Exeter College and Merton College.
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At the age of 17, Bannister commenced his running career at Oxford in 1946. Until now, he had not been professionally trained in running but only three weekly half-hour training sessions revealed the hidden talent in him.
After getting proper training he was chosen as an Olympic 'possible' in 1948 but he refused as he felt that he was still not ready for the challenge. His eyes were set on the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
In 1949, Bannister started to show great improvements in the 880 yard races and by now won many mile races. He also came in third at White City in 4:14:2 apparently without any special training.
He was becoming increasingly good at racing and in 1950 finished a relatively slow 4:13 mile with an impressive 57.5 last quarter. He came in third in the 800 m at the European Championships.
In a very challenging competition, he won a mile race in 1951 at the AAA Championships, White City, which 47,000 people witnessed live. The time set a meet record and he defeated Bill Nankeville in the course of action.
In 1952, Bannister ran 880 yards in 1:53.00, and then a 4:10.6 mile time-trial. Few days before the Olympic final, he ran a 3/4 mile time trial in 2:52.9 - he felt he was ready for the Olympics.
Bannister was not comfortable with the semifinals for the 1500 m at the Olympics as he knew that since he had not received deeper training regimens, he would be at a disadvantage. He finished fifth and qualified for the final.
Bannister finished fourth in 1952 Olympics and set a British record of 3:46.30 (3:46.0) but he considered it as his failure and contemplated giving up running altogether. But he recovered from the setback and set new goals for himself.
In 1953, he broke Sydney Wooderson's 1945 British record at Oxford and ran 4:03:6 and realized that he could achieve a four-minute mile challenge. By this time, he was pursuing medical studies at St. Mary's Hospital Medical School.
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In 1954, during a meet between British AAA and Oxford University, Bannister made history by breaking record by completing the first three quarter-mile laps in less than three minutes and the last lap in less than a minute (3:59:4).
Within a month, the Australian runner John Landy broke his record, but in the British Empire Games, Vancouver (The Mile of the Century), both runners beat the four-minute time, but Bannister came in first at 3:58.8 to Landy's 3:59.6.
In the same year, Bannister was awarded the Silver Pears Trophy, presented yearly for the stupendous British accomplishment in any field and won the European title in the 1500-meter before retiring from competition.
After retirement from athletics, Bannister finished his medical studies and for the next two decades involved himself deeply with a career in research and with clinical practice as a neurologist. Later, he devoted himself to research alone.
He remained in touch with the sports by serving as the Chairman of the Sports Council of Great Britain (from 1971 to 1974), and as President of the International Council for Sport and Physical Recreation (from 1976 to 1983).
Presently, Bannister is Director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London, and a trustee-delegate of St. Mary's Hospital Medical School. He is also Chairman of the Editorial Board of 'Clinical Autonomic Research' and is the editor of 'Autonomic Failure'.
Awards & Achievements
Bannister has earned accolades for his achievements, like: Silver Pears Trophy, Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award, Honorary Degrees by University of Sheffield and University of Bath. He was knighted for his services as the Chairman of Sport England.
Bannister has an equal number of achievements in medical science and athletics. But it is for his athletic triumphs that he is remembered more, especially when he made history by breaking the record of four-minute mile challenge in 1954.
His most prominent role in academic medicine is in the field of autonomic failure, an area of neurology focusing on diseases caused by particular automatic responses of the nervous system not taking place.
This former British athlete carried the Olympic flame at the site of his memorable feat, in the stadium now named after him, in 2012.
St Mary's Hospital (London), Imperial College School of Medicine has named a lecture theatre after Bannister.
He once famously said - 'The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win'.