Lord Coe, Steve Cram lead tributes to the late Sir Roger Bannister

Cram: 'Bannister never lost his aura' (2:14)

Former 1500m world champion Steve Cram pays tribute to Roger Bannister, the first man to run a four minute mile, who died Sunday at age 88. (2:14)

Lord Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram led tributes to the late Sir Roger Bannister, hailing the man who broke the four-minute mile as "inspirational" and a man who sat right in the middle of "ambition and mankind".

News of Bannister's death was announced Sunday, his family saying he died peacefully Saturday in Oxford, England. He was 88.

On a windy late afternoon in Oxford on May 6, 1954, Bannister ran four laps on a cinder track in three minutes 59.4 seconds to crack the mythical 4-minute mile -- a feat many had thought humanly impossible. A few months later in 1954, Bannister beat Australian rival John Landy in the "Miracle Mile" or "Mile of the Century" at the Empire Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, as both men ran under four minutes.

Bannister then gave up running to pursue a long and distinguished medical career.

Tributes poured in from around the world of athletics. Lord Coe, the double Olympic champion over 1500m, remembered comparing training schedules with Bannister, and was in awe of how he achieved such remarkable feats on modest training.

"It was only when I looked at those two training programmes that I realised the enormity of what he had achieved on the track," Lord Coe told ESPN.

"There's no an athlete of my generation, particularly in middle distance that didn't think of him as the senior partner. The mile became an institutionalised event for Britain, I'm not sure it would've done had he not been the first one to break the four minutes.

"We had world record holders for the mile beforehand, but the very fact he managed to do it gave people like myself, Steve Cram, Steve Ovett the massive inspiration to emulate. We viewed him as the senior partner."

Lord Coe also hailed Bannister's ability to push human endeavour further than people thought medically possible. "Not only was it seen as a physiological, physical, mental barrier but learned treaties in medical journals basically saying if anyone tries this then there's a chance they may lose their life in the process," Lord Coe said. "That's how people viewed it. And yet of course within a few weeks, John Landy took another second and bits out of it so it shows the indomitable nature of ambition and mankind and Roger sat in the epicentre of that."

Cram, the 1983 1,500-metre world champion and Olympic silver medallist, said he grew up watching the video of Bannister breaking the four-minute mile at Iffley Road and has had many conversations with the legend throughout his own athletics career and now as a broadcaster.

"His achievement in 1954 lived with him his whole life and it inspired so many people and it inspired a resurgence in British middle-distance running," Cram told ESPN. "He was an incredibly inspirational person to not only people of my era, but to before and after.

"He was incredibly intelligent man who could be quite challenging, not in a bad way, but he would always want to talk to you. Initially as a young athlete it was about my training and what I was doing and in later years we'd talk sometimes around what was going on in the world of athletics and he was always interested in training techniques, altitude training, why we were running quicker and faster.

"In later years I'd often have conversations about broadcasting as he was sitting at home watching on television. Conversations could go anywhere. He was always full of questions.

"I was very fortunate, Seb [Coe] and Steve Ovett would be the same, that we got to meet him on many occasions, but he never lost that aura. He had this aura of being the man who broke the four-minute mile, a pioneer in so many ways. His achievement was voted one of the greatest moments of the century and to have done something like that was awesome."

For Cram, Bannister's legacy is two-fold. He made an immediate impact on the world when he broke the four-minute mark, and that achievement has transcended the sport ever since.

"His legacy was that he did something which was a sporting achievement which was one of the first to be filmed, it went around the world and brought a sense of awe and wonder to what we try to do on a daily basis," Cram said. "He's the grand doyen of middle-distance running as to this day, people are still trying to break the four-minute mile and most of them will know who the first guy to do it was. That will never go away, Sir Roger Bannister -- he's the man to do it first.

"He was also representative of the change of Corinthian ideals that athletics still had going into the 50s, so the change into a more professional time when people would set real targets and be more scientific of what they're trying to do and set training methods which he was really into as well. He's left an awful lot behind, it's very sad he's gone but we'll never forget what he did."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.