Famous Contributions of Sir R Bannister

Twin Tracks: The Autobiography by Roger Bannister

Twin Tracks: The Autobiography (2014) by Roger Bannister


Born in 1929, Roger Bannister grew up in Harrow, Bath and Hampstead, winning numerous races from half-mile to cross country distances in his teenage years. He later competed for Oxford, whilst studying medicine, where he would meet other top British runners.

His race reports are fascinating insights into a professional and humble man. He sheds light on his rising journey to become an Olympic medallist, only to finish fourth in a dramatic race at the Helsinki Games in 1952. This was due to exhaustion from running the 1500m heat and semi-final in the two consecutive days leading up to the final.

However, his determination to overcome the damning press and realise his potential meant he continued to train smart towards new, but no less ambitious, goals. During his time winning four AAA (British) Championships in four years, and breaking the British record for the mile, he set his sights on breaking the four-minute mile, a feat the Australian John Landy was also close to achieving.

On 6 May 1954 at the age of 25 he did just that, using his two best friends Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway to pace him at different stages along the four laps of the Iffley Road Track at Oxford University. He ran the first and last lap in under 60 seconds each, and finished in 3 minutes and 59.4 seconds. Significant factors contributed to his success, despite the abnormally windy day:

  • 5 rest days beforehand.

  • Lighter shoes than he was used to.

  • Ability to relax at the crucial moments of the run.

  • Willingness to wait for weather conditions to improve.

  • Positive encouragement from his friends, the crowd and one-time coach Franz Stampfl.

Then he beat Landy in the 1 mile race at the Commonwealth Games of 1954 in Vancouver with a lifetime best of 3:58.8. Bannister ended his impressive career by winning the 1500m gold medal at the European Championships in Switzerland in another lifetime best and championship record of 3:43.8.

In his book he reflects on his achievements during his decade-long running career

  • Genetics played a role in his development as a runner; he reached six foot in height and possessed strengthened legs that were naturally long in comparison to his torso. His father was also a strong runner at school.

  • Specific training with single aims that balanced well with work, family and social commitments. His training was refined over many years that consisted of either 25 miles per week, or 4-5 sessions of 40 minutes per week, incorporating a lot of fartlek and interval training.

His advice to readers to improve their running is intriguing and pragmatic:

  • Run with friends to make the hard work of training more enjoyable.

  • Find a knowledgeable coach that inspires.

  • Experiment with training but also play to strengths.

  • Learn to harness natural instincts of pacing.

But it is Bannister’s position as consultant neurologist at two major hospitals in London, and as senior advisor to organisations, such as the Sports Council and the International Council of Sport and Physical Education, that warrant even greater admiration. His work paved the way for greater funding and provision of superb sporting facilities that support greater participation at every ability level. The various honours he has received are a token of his life’s extraordinary contribution.

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