Oxford pays tribute to Sir Roger Bannister

Sir Roger ran the first sub-four minute mile at Iffley Road in 1954, later becoming a leading neurologist and Master of Pembroke College

Figures from across the Oxford community have paid tribute to Sir Roger Bannister, who passed away last Saturday aged 88.

Sir Roger, an Oxford undergraduate, was the first athletics runner to complete a mile in under four minutes, which he achieved at Iffley Road in 1954.

A gold medal winner at the 1954 Commonwealth Games, Bannister later became an Oxford academic neurologist, and Master of Pembroke College.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2011.

The University’s vice chancellor, Louise Richardson, said: “Roger Bannister epitomised what it means to be a living legend.

“He was a regular presence at university events and remained committed to Oxford University to the end, engaging with students, challenging academics, and inspiring all of us.”

Oxford University Athletics Club President, Miles Weatherseed, told Cherwell the club was “deeply saddened” to learn of the death of a “club legend”.

He said: “Nearly anyone who has ever set foot on an athletics track is aware of his groundbreaking achievements back in 1954.

“What took place on a windy cinder track at Iffley Road rightly stunned the world and heralded the start of an era of new possibilities in middle distance running.

“There are barely any from whom a young athlete can draw so much inspiration.

“The likes of Sir Mo Farah or Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, although still hugely inspiring, are far harder to relate to than a keen young Oxford medic, running for the pure enjoyment of it back in the 1950s.

“The spirit of amateurism and the task of balancing his studies with his running are a far cry from the hugely commercialised and professional setup one sees in athletics these days.

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“The thoughts of everyone at the Oxford University Athletic Club are with his family and close friends at this difficult time.

“We are sincerely grateful for all that he did for his university, his sport and his country, and he will be remembered forever as one of the true greats.”

Sir Roger matriculated in Physiological Sciences at Exeter College in 1946, soon becoming President of the Athletics Club. He later became an Honorary Fellow of the College.

Rector of Exeter College, Professor Sir Rick Trainor, told Cherwell: “Exeter is very proud to have been Sir Roger’s undergraduate college.

“We at Exeter will miss him deeply, not least at the annual welcoming party each October for our new visiting students at which (with his wife Moyra and his fellow Exeter alumnus the author Philip Pullman) he spoke each year.”

Sir Roger served as Master of Pembroke College between 1985 and 1993.

A spokesperson for the College told Cherwell: “The Pembroke community is saddened by the death of former Master and Honorary Fellow, Sir Roger Bannister.

“[He] took a deep interest in each student and their successes. He sustained that interest and remained a frequent visitor to College events right up until the end.

“Sir Roger’s legacy will live on in College, through the Sir Roger Bannister Scholarship and the Bannister Medical Scholarship which are awarded annually. In addition to this portrait, many of Sir Roger’s athletics trophies are displayed in the College Hall.

“His memory will continue to inspire future generations of Pembroke students.”

Bannister was Chairman of the Sports Council (now Sports England) and was knighted for services to sport in 1975.

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He published more than 80 academic medical papers, mostly relating to the autonomic nervous system, cardiovascular physiology and multiple system atrophy.

In 2012, Sir Roger carried the Olympic flame in the Oxford University track stadium, which is named after him.

Lord Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, said: “My wife and I were very sad to hear about Roger Bannister’s death.

“He was not just one of the great athletes of the last century but a superb doctor and servant of Oxford University.

“He was a man of great distinction and honour in every sense.

“We will miss him enormously.”

Sir Roger’s family said in a statement that he had “died peacefully in Oxford on 3 March, aged 88, surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them.

“He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.”

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