Friday, March 9, 2018

On the heels of greatness

                                                             Sir Rodger Bannister

Those of us with a certain frame of mind we lost one of our great heroes this week.

And just maybe discovered another. 

                                           Ibbetson, the first four minute miler.

Roger Bannister is best known for running the world's first sub 4 minute mile on 6th May 1954.  Derek Ibbetson had already run a mile in 4 minutes dead, and there were a few runners coming very close. One American, Wes Santee and one Australian, John Landy,  so it was all getting terribly British that we had to do it first.

                                                                               Wes Santee
There is so much about it that is romantic, he was an Oxbridge student, he trained in his lunch hour, they took their running seriously but not as seriously as their studies. As a second year student on my pre clinical course, I had to buy a copy of the bible of neurology famously called 'Brains Clinical Neurology' and my version was edited by a certain Sir Roger Bannister. He was a well respected neurologist in his field.

                                                                     Norris McWhirter

 So on that dark, rainy morning, at Iffley running park, he was there with a different agenda. On a  on a dirt track, wearing plimsolls, with a tape as the finishing line and the McWhirters (them of the Guinness book of records) at the side with as many stop watches as they needed because they had to be sure of the time  and of independant verification.

If they managed to go that fast.
                                                   The Rodger Bannister Stand

It was a team effort of course. Fellow student Chris Chataway ( later a Sir and a Conservative Mp) and Chris Brasher ( went on to 'invent' the London Marathon -  his training for that was three pints of guinness and a curry! )  did most of the hard work as pace makers pulling Bannister along for the first 3 laps.

Now  I guess a  commentator with their hyperbole would say 'Bannister has opened the afterburners.' But in those days, he just closed his eyes and went for it, with his long gangly legs he looks ungainly and rather unfocused, head back, arms flailing. There is pain on that man's face, in his lungs and in his legs. He was so deep in oxygen deprivation with the effort  of that last 100 yards, he famously collapsed  into the arms of the officials the minute he crossed the line. 

Then there was long, long silence. 

I am  paraphrasing now but I’m sure a McWhirter  announced "1st place Roger Bannister in a track , English, British, Commonwealth and World record time..... " There was another long pause as the tension mounted because the next word over the tannoy could still be a four and all was lost. Then the tannoy crackled and all everybody heard was the word "three"  and there was much joyous celebration. Bannister hanging over the necks of his supporters ( literally).  He  still couldn’t quite stand up.

A gracious and courageous man who never ceased in his support of world athletics.

                             Bannister and Landy, still fighting it out.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2013, a man who had spent his life diagnosing and treating neurological conditions in others. He said in 2014 ' it's in the nature of things,  there is a gentle irony to it.'
For the last two years there’s been a small Scottish lassie knocking on the door of the world stage at the 1500 and 3000 metres. Two forth places in the Olympics, her name is Laura Muir. There’s no training camp in the South of France for her, no making her way through the palatial facilities of the American Collegiate system. She is still a full time student at Glasgow Veterinary School and trains part time.

Great Britain ground to a halt on Wednesday last week by snow, ( The beast from the east) Scotland had its first ever red warning ie stay indoors the weather is a threat to life. Unfortunately for Laura that was the day before the opening of the world athletics championships in Birmingham. She had a lecture at University on Thursday morning then jumped in a car, it took her 10 hours to do the 4 hour journey to Birmingham, she got about 3 hours sleep before starting the heats for the 3000 metres.
                                                 (Chell Hill took this picture.)

There is always a sinking feeling in any middle distance race when the Kenyans and Ethiopians hit the front but this time they were chased down by a wee Scottish terrier that wasn’t going to let them away with it. In the 3000, she got the Bronze medal. In the 1500 metres, her preferred distance, she got right in amongst them and got a Silver. She’s not running in the Commonwealth games as it coincides with exams but by the time of the next Olympics she’ll be in full time training and who knows what might happen, maybe another Brit will hold the mile record or 1609.34 metres or whatever it is.

Of course, Bannister only held the Sub four record for a fortnight or something  but I am, not letting the facts spoil a great story.

Caro Ramsay 09 03 2018


  1. And a great story it is, made even better in your telling. I remember the day and all that led up to it well. He electrified the world, and that vision of him collapsing at the finish is burned into my memory...albeit in the form of a blurry image on an early version TV.

  2. And if it had happened just two years before, it wouldn't have been able to be broadcast for lack of technology!

  3. Plus overshadowed by a still raging Korean War! Speaking of overshadowed, don't tell anyone but today is Stan's birthday. Happy Birthday, young man.

  4. He was a hero of mine too. I remember talking. about it at dinner that night. Here's to the terrier - reminds me a bit of our Zola Budd.

  5. RIP Sir Rodger!

    I take nothing away from him, but stories of running men always bring to my mind the great Jesse Owens, who once set three world records and tied a fourth in a 45 minute period, in four different events. He went to the Munich Olympics, won eleven goals medals and slapped Hitler's claims of the master race square in the face. I was brought up in an athletic family with him as an ideal. Here is what he said:
    "The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself – the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us – that’s where it’s at."

  6. Athletes are great, sis, but let's not forget the athletic supporters! They count too.