1954’s Cherwell was amongst the first to learn that
Iffley Road would see Roger Bannister attempt to run the elusive
four-minute mile. During secret training in April Bannister ran a
three minute three-quarter mile and became convinced that the
impossible could be done; he alerted Oxford University Athletics
Club officials, who informed Cherwell staff that an attempt would
be made but asked that the preview be ‘guarded’. On 4th
May the newspaper previewed the soon to be famous match under the
ambiguous headline ‘Records May Go’, with the prophetic
words “with Bannister, Chataway and Brasher in the field
something very, very fast may be expected.” One week later Bannister’s photo adorned the front page;
the headline declaring him to be ‘Alone in the World’;
the main headline, though, was devoted to the attempts to raise
signatures for an ‘H-Bomb Petition’. On the back page
of Cherwell, the newspaper’s athletics correspondent offered
a behind the scenes exclusive on the breaking of “one of the
few athletic records which catches the public imagination.” The report’s first line betrays the excitement all felt
at the achievement: “Five days ago Roger Bannister M.A.,
B.Sc., Oxon, became the first man to run one mile in less than
four minutes.” However, it shows too just how close
Bannister came to calling off his attempt to run into history:
“Earlier in the day Bannister had dismissed his plans for a
record attempt, and Chataway had expressed his wishes to run in
the Two Miles”. The men were persuaded to continue by George
Truelove who, Cherwell wrote, “told them all to ‘have a
go’” and, no doubt, by the realisation that the moment
was ripe for the taking; with so many athletes vying for the
honour of being the first to run the four-minute-mile a delay
might have proved fatal. Still, it was only at 5.55pm that
Bannister committed to the run. Cherwell’s report acknowledged Brasher’s early
attempts to set the pace saying that “the greatest
credit” was due to him, though his “valiant first half
mile was almost forgotten by the end of the race”. Of Chataway the praise is equally fulsome, despite noting that
“the phenomenal first quarter mile led to the third lap, at
62 secs, being the slowest of the race”. Bannister, though,
“burnt himself out in a superhuman effort over the last 330
yards” and broke through the line into history. Hugh Murray, the Sports Editor of Cherwell, was quick to have
a word with the hero of the day who declared himself “very
pleased to have done this mile here at Iffley Road, for it was
here that I ran my first mile” – the report notes that
“in fact that mile was a very poor run in the
Freshmen’s Sports, October 1947 when the track was
constructed three laps to the mile.” It was Bannister who in one of numerous legacies he was to
leave the University secured the approval for a “normal
size…cinder track”, which the paper proudly points out
‘is now one of the best in the country. Perhaps Chataway, an ex- President of Oxford University
Athletic’s Club, best summed up the spirit of jubilation at
Iffley Road by declaring to a listening Cherwell reporter that
the triumphant runners were “now off to find a night
club.” One of Britain’s greatest ever sporting
achievements being celebrated in Filth or Park End is perhaps not
the most romantic of images but certainly marks it out as a
quintessentially Oxford moment.ARCHIVE: 2nd week TT 2004