Ceremonies held to mark anniversary

OXFORD, England -- Now a 75-year-old grandfather with a
limp, Roger Bannister returned to the track where he ran the
world's first sub-four-minute mile exactly 50 years ago -- one of
the greatest achievements in sports history.

It was cold and blustery on May 6, 1954, but Thursday was mostly
sunny at Oxford's Iffley Road, where an all-weather synthetic track
long ago replaced the cinder surface.

Bannister, with a rosy complexion and a wisp of gray-white hair,
appeared at an all-amateur track meet honoring the anniversary.
Guards wearing traditional bowler hats welcomed 1,000 fans -- about
the same number of spectators who saw him run 3 minutes, 59.4
seconds to become the first person to break the fabled four-minute

Music by Handel was piped over the loudspeaker for Thursday's
events, including an elite mile race.

"This is an extension of the tradition of miling, which goes
back right through the last century," said Bannister, a retired
neurologist who lives minutes from the track. "I would have been
delighted to run in weather of this kind."

Fascination endures with the four-minute mark, which many at the
time believed was physically impossible.

"It still seems strange to me that the intrinsically simple and
unimportant act of placing one foot in front of the other as fast
as possible for 1,760 yards was heralded as such an important
athletic achievement," Bannister wrote in his book, "The First
Four Minutes."

"I suppose the appeal lies in its very simplicity, four laps in
four minutes -- it needs no money, no equipment and, in a world of
increasingly complex technology, it stands out as a naive statement
about our nature."

Bannister was the favorite at 1,500 meters entering the 1952
Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. His goal was to win gold and retire
to pursue his medical career.

Instead, he finished fourth, thrown off when Olympic officials
inserted an extra round of heats, forcing him run three straight

The failure prompted him to shelve retirement and pursue the
record, which was being chased by many, including American Wes
Santee and Australian John Landy.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Bannister recalled:
"I thought, 'Well, I can't leave on this sour note, feeling
failure, disappointment, letting people down -- letting the country

"I thought, 'I can just go on somehow, combining medicine with
my running until '54, two years.'"

Bannister chose the first meet of the 1954 season -- Oxford vs.
the Amateur Athletic Union -- to attempt to break the record with
friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway as pacemakers.

The weather was typically English: rainy, cool and blustery. He
nearly abandoned the attempt, but around 6 p.m. the wind subsided.

"I calculated there's a 50-50 chance of my doing it,"
Bannister said. "I said, 'If there's a 50-50 chance and I don't
take it, I may never get another chance to beat Landy to it.' So I
said, 'Let's do it.'"

Bannister's record stood for 46 days before Landy ran 3:57.9 in
Turku, Finland, on June 21.

On Aug. 9, 1954, they met at the Empire Games in Vancouver,
British Columbia, where Bannister defeated Landy in what was called
the "mile of the century." Bannister won in 3:58.8, and Landy
finished in 3:59.6.

Bannister, who walks with a limp from a 1975 car accident, still
calls it his greatest run.

In his last major race, he won the 1,500 meters in 3:43.8 at the
European Games in Berne, Switzerland, on Aug. 29, 1954.

"There is no question in my mind that the drama, excitement and
publicity caused by this single race helped form the development of
modern athletics," IAAF president Lamine Diack said at a recent
dinner in London honoring Bannister. "And by breaking a barrier
that had been considered unbreakable, Roger Bannister had also
transcended sport and became an eternal symbol of the limitless
possibilities of the human mind and body."

Bannister figures more than 2,000 runners have broken four
minutes since he did it. American Steve Scott did it 137 times, and
New Zealand's John Walker 128.

The current record is 3:43.13 by Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj.
Set in 1999, the mark has stood longer than most, partially because
the distance has given way to the 1,500 meters -- known as "the
metric mile."

Bannister figures the mile mark will eventually drop to 3½
minutes, but not for 50 years.

"I think the mile is not dead yet," he said.