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Roger Bannister, first to run sub-4-minute mile, dies at 88

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LONDON (AP) — Roger Bannister, the first runner to break the 4-minute barrier in the mile, has died. He was 88.

Bannister’s family said in a statement that he died peacefully on Saturday in Oxford, the English city where the runner cracked the feat many had thought humanly impossible on a windy afternoon in 1954.

Bannister, who went on to pursue a long and distinguished medical career, had been slowed by Parkinson’s disease in recent years.

He was “surrounded by his family who were as loved by him, as he was loved by them,” the family said in a statement announcing his death on Sunday. “He banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May remembered Bannister as a “British sporting icon whose achievements were an inspiration to us all. He will be greatly missed.”

Helped by two pacemakers, Bannister clocked 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds over four laps at Oxford’s Iffley Road track on May 6, 1954, to break the 4-minute mile — a test of speed and endurance that stands as one of the defining sporting achievements of the 20th century.

“It’s amazing that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have broken the 4-minute mile,” Bannister said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2012.

The enduring image of the lanky Oxford medical student — head tilted back, eyes closed and mouth agape as he strained across the finishing tape — captured the public’s imagination, made him a global celebrity and lifted the spirits of Britons still suffering through postwar austerity.

“It became a symbol of attempting a challenge in the physical world of something hitherto thought impossible,” Bannister said as he approached the 50th anniversary of the feat. “I’d like to see it as a metaphor not only for sport, but for life and seeking challenges.”

He might not have set the milestone but for the disappointment of finishing without a medal in the 1500m, known as the metric mile, in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki. Instead of retiring from the sport, he decided to chase the 4-minute mark.

Swedish runner Gundar Haegg’s mile time of 4:01.4 had stood for nine years, but in 1954 Bannister, Australian rival John Landy and others were threatening to break it.

“As it became clear that somebody was going to do it, I felt that I would prefer it to be me,” Bannister told the AP.

He also wanted to deliver something special for his country.

“I thought it would be right for Britain to try to get this,” Bannister said. “There was a feeling of patriotism. Our new queen had been crowned the year before, Everest had been climbed in 1953. Although I tried in 1953, I broke the British record, but not the 4-minute mile, and so everything was ready in 1954.”

His chance finally came on a wet, cool, blustery May afternoon during a meet between Oxford and the Amateur Athletic Association.

When Bannister looked up at the English flag whipping in the wind atop a nearby church, he feared he would have to call off the record attempt. But, shortly before 6 p.m., the wind died down. The race was on.

With Chris Brasher setting the pace on the cinder track, they ran a first lap in 57.5 seconds, then 60.7 — 1:58.2 for the half mile. Chris Chataway, a distance specialist, paced a third lap of 62.3 — 3:00.4. Bannister would need to run the final lap in 59 seconds.

With 250 yards to go, Bannister surged past Chataway, his long arms and legs pumping and his lungs gasping for oxygen.

“The world seemed to stand still, or did not exist,” he wrote in his book, “The First Four Minutes.”

“The only reality was the next 200 yards of track under my feet. The tape meant finality — extinction perhaps. I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well. I drove on, impelled by a combination of fear and pride.”

After Bannister crossed the finish line, the announcer read out the time: “3…” The rest was drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

The record lasted just 46 days, as Landy ran 3:57.9 in Turku, Finland, on June 21, 1954. That set the stage for the showdown between Bannister and Landy at the Empire Games, now called the Commonwealth Games, in Vancouver, British Columbia on Aug. 9, 1954.

Landy set a fast pace, leading by as much as 15 yards before Bannister caught up as the bell rang for the final lap.

“Around the last bend, I think the crowd was making so much noise he couldn’t hear whether I was behind, or whether he’d dropped me, and he looked over his left shoulder, and I passed him on his right shoulder,” Bannister said.

Bannister won the race in 3:58.8, with Landy second in 3:59. It was the first time two men had run under 4 minutes in the same race.

Bannister considered that victory even more satisfying than the first 4-minute mile because it came in a competitive race against his greatest rival.

Bannister capped his brilliant summer of 1954 by winning the 1500m at the European Championships in Bern, Switzerland, in a games record of 3:43.8.

Bannister, who was chosen as Sports Illustrated’s first Sportsman of the Year in 1954, retired from competition and pursued a full-time career in neurology. As chairman of the Sports Council between 1971 and 1974, he developed the first test for anabolic steroids.

“None of my athletics was the greatest achievement,” he said. “My medical work has been my achievement and my family with 14 grandchildren. Those are real achievements.”

IAAF President Sebastian Coe said Bannister’s death represented a “day of intense sadness both for our nation and for all of us in athletics.”

Coe ran a mile in a world record 3 minutes, 47.33 seconds in 1981 between winning gold medals in the 1500m at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics.

“There is not a single athlete of my generation who was not inspired by Roger and his achievements both on and off the track,” Coe tweeted.

Bannister also served as master of Oxford’s Pembroke College from 1985-93.

Bannister married Moyra Jacobsson, an artist, in 1955. They had two sons and two daughters and lived in a modest home only minutes away from the track where he made history.

Bannister outlived his 4-minute mile pacemakers: Brasher, who founded the London Marathon, died in 2003 at the age of 74. Chataway died in 2014 at 82.

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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