Everyone across the Commonwealth Sports Movement was deeply saddened to learn of the passing on Saturday of Sir Roger Bannister at the age of 88 at his home in Oxfordshire, England. Roger’s name will forever be synonymous with the Commonwealth and Commonwealth Sport thanks to his part in “the Miracle Mile” – an historic race at the V British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver, Canada in 1954, which saw Roger and the Australian, John Landy – who at that time remember were the only two sub-four-minute runners in the world – fight to the finish line.
Rightfully, Bannister’s defeat of his Australian rival on the last bend of “the Miracle Mile” – in a time of three minutes, 58.8 seconds – has gone down in athletics history. Indeed, his achievement only a couple of months earlier in becoming the first athlete to run a sub-four-minute mile – in three minutes, 59.4 seconds at Iffley Road sports ground in Oxford on May 6, 1954 – became one of the great feats of the twentieth century. Roger’s achievement was all the more remarkable as it followed minimal training and was recorded whilst he was practising as a junior doctor.
As a person, Roger was not only good fun but he was great to talk to. Full of stories, life and laughter, I enjoyed the wisdom and wit he displayed on the handful of occasions that I met him. He was a true gentleman; he carried no airs and graces and was liked by all whom he came into contact with. I particularly remember one occasion, many years ago, having a coffee with Chris Chataway – who had paced with Roger to the first sub-four-minute mile in 1954 – and it quickly became apparent from chatting to Chris, who of course knew Roger so well, just how funny and amusing a person Roger was.
As I often say, the Commonwealth is a movement brimming with captivating stories of human feat and endeavour – in fact the Commonwealth excels, and one could argue is somewhat unique, in telling these kinds of stories – and, in my view, there is no greater Commonwealth sporting story than that of Sir Roger Bannister. It is no exaggeration to say that Roger was a true ‘giant’ of Commonwealth sport and an icon of international athletics.
I know I speak for many colleagues and partners from across the Commonwealth when I say how saddened I was by the news of his passing. Given his feat on the west coast of Canada in 1954, the Commonwealth is a family with which he will forever be synonymous and inextricably linked. Roger, quite literally, set the pace for all sportsmen and women worldwide, and he will be greatly missed by his peers, friends and the entire athletics community. He was undoubtedly an inspiration to us all, young and old.
When the Commonwealth Sports Movement gathers on the Gold Coast, Australia to celebrate the XXI Commonwealth Games in just under 30 days’ time, Roger will be well and truly missed, but, as the man who broke the four-minute-mile, he will be proudly remembered for years to come.
By Louise Martin CBE, CGF President