Sir Roger Bannister, distinguished athlete and Oxford academic, has recently revealed that he has been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for a number of years.
The announcement came during the days leading up to the 60th anniversary of him running the record four-minute mile.
85-year-old Sir Roger said that he “does have this disability, particularly with walking, from Parkinson’s but I make as light of it as I can”.
On 6 May, 1954, Sir Roger made history when he ran a mile at the Iffley Road track in an unprecedented 239.4 seconds.
Though he only held the record for 46 days before Australian John Landy took the title, Sir Roger’s run was a momentous moment for modern athletics with this standard being used as a modern common benchmark. The current men’s mile record is held by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj, who made the run in 223.13 seconds at the Grand Prix in 1999.
On Tuesday, Exeter College celebrated the anniversary of this achievement with a lunch in Sir Roger’s honour. He opened the refurbished Vincent’s Club on the same day. Vincent’s Club bursar Stephen Eeley noted the club has recently included a lift to accommodate Sir Roger and others with walking difficulties.
Sir Roger began studying medicine at Exeter and running for Oxford in 1946, when he was 17 years old. He participated in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, but did not medal. Disappointed by his results, Sir Roger was inspired to return to Oxford and attempt to break the four-minute mile mark, a feat many at the time claimed was impossible.
At age 25, Sir Roger broke the four-minute mile barrier by 0.6 seconds on a windy Oxford day. He collapsed into the arms of reporters at the finish line, later recalling that his body felt “like an exploding flashbulb”.
Sir Roger continued his studies in medicine, later becoming a noted neurologist and master of Pembroke College. When interviewed by the BBC on the 50th anniversary of his four-minute mile, Sir Roger said that he was more proud of his achievements in neurology and academic medicine than his athletic career.
Speaking about the anniversary of Sir Roger’s run, the rector of Exeter College, Frances Caincross, commented, “We at Exeter College are amazingly proud of him, it’s such a great achievement.”
University of Oxford spokesman Matt Pickles further said, “The Vice Chancellor and other guests that Sir Roger wants to see will join him and his family for the lunch, where we will show footage of his famous race. We are looking forward to celebrating the 60th anniversary of Sir Roger’s legendary race with him.”
Many at the university were shocked by the news that Sir Roger suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, as none had been previously aware of the diagnosis. Oxford’s celebrations nevertheless focused on recognising Sir Roger’s athletic achievement.
This weekend marks the start of the Athletics Cuppers competition between various colleges. Many are keen to follow in the footsteps of Sir Roger Bannister, given that the event takes place at Iffley itself.
One student at New College commented that, “It is very sad to hear the news regarding Roger Bannister, he is a great inspiration that changed the future of the sport. I cannot wait to take part in this year’s Cuppers competition that takes place at a location that symbolises a turning point in modern athletics.”