Oxford's oldest student newspaper

Independent since 1920

Celebrating 70 years: The Bannister mile

Seventy years ago, on a blustery day at Oxford’s Iffley Road sports track, history was made. On May 6th 1954, a young British medical Oxford student named Roger Bannister achieved what was once deemed impossible: he broke the four-minute mile. This monumental feat which had captivated the imagination of athletes and spectators for decades not only transcended the realm of athletics but also became a symbol of human endeavour and perseverance.

The starting bell echoed across the track at 6:00pm, and the race had begun. With Brasher and Chataway as pacers, Bannister determinedly raced and finished the final lap with the crowd erupting. In that moment sporting history was changed forever as the electronic timer displayed a time of 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds, making Roger Bannister the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes. His name was now etched into history. Bannister created a legacy that others can learn from; through hard work and self-belief nothing is impossible.

On May 6th 2024 Oxford marked the 70th anniversary of Roger Bannister’s historic feat by celebrating with a community mile for the first time in the morning, with over 1,500 people running in the typically British rainy conditions. Sports clubs, universities, children, and even members of the Bannister family took part to remember the accomplishment. At Iffley a museum was set up to teach people about the story of this event. Special guest speakers, including prominent athletes and the vice chancellor of Oxford University, reflected on the significance of Bannister’s achievement and its lasting impact on sport and society. Max Anderson Loake ran in the community mile and stayed to spectate the elite races in the afternoon. He told Cherwell: This morning I participated in the community mile with a group from the swimming club. It was my first mile, so it was good fun. I wanted to be a part of it.

“Sport does such a big thing for culture and community because it gets people out of the libraries and spending time with each other, having fun and getting some endorphins going. It’s a bonding experience.”

This event started to take form in 2012 but with Covid-19 it had taken a hit. Thomas Renshaw, one of the co-directors of the event, spoke to Cherwell about the importance of bringing the Oxford community together through events like this. He shared: “It’s been really nice to have lots of families and students, as well as the world record holders. People have clearly enjoyed the afternoon and learnt a lot, even though the rain has been pouring. Thanks everyone for coming and hope we’ll see you next year.”

Matt Buck, a member of the Achilles club, the Oxford and Cambridge athletics alumni, spoke to Cherwell about the races and their impact for generations. He shared: “This is the first time in my memory that they’ve organised events and races all throughout the day. Inviting younger children and getting the community up and running and racing is great. It’s a big day for Oxford.”

At precisely 6:00pm on May 6th 2024, with the crowd in complete silence, the same bell that rung for Roger Bannister rang loud and 70 years later the elite men’s race set off. The crowd erupted in unison as a close and competitive race took place. The winner, Ossama Meslek, completed the mile in an amazing time of 3:56.15, closely followed by James Young and Tiarnan Crorken who were both also under the 4-minute mile. This new generation of athletes showed that there is no limit on human capabilities if we have passion and perseverance for what we do. From the crowd it was an incredible watch, and I myself felt inspired by the atmosphere created.

Even though this event marked the historic event of a man, it is important not to forget the women that raced, they too also showed the capabilities and improvement of humanity after we remove the mental barrier. The women’s A race set off at 5:45pm, with the top 4 runners creating an exciting and close race for the spectators. In an astonishing time of 4:36.09 Khahisa Mhlanga won, followed by Bethen Morely and Lauren Church. Speaking to Cherwell, Mhlanga shared: “It’s a very unique event and nice to be part of the elite mile, with a pb as well!”

Overall, this day successfully celebrated the sporting icon Roger Bannister, showing that no matter how daunting the odds may seem if you persevere you can chase your dream. This historic milestone honoured the legacy of Roger Bannister, who paved the way for generations of future athletes to come. Oxford University were proud to commemorate this sporting excellence, and with Irene Tracey (the vice chancellor) the University has an ongoing commitment to nurturing and fostering sporting achievement. The future of sport is unpredictable and incredibly exciting, with athletes motivated more than ever.

Check out our other content

Most Popular Articles