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.

South Korea’s first gold medalist of 2018 PyeongChang Olympics to compete for China

Lim Hyo-Jun
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Lim Hyo-Jun, a short track speed skater who won South Korea’s first gold medal of the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, has been cleared to skate for China and was reportedly named to the national team Monday.

Lim, who won the 1500m on the first day of medal competition at the PyeongChang Games, began the process of switching to China after a June 2019 incident where he pulled down a teammate’s trousers, leaving him standing, exposed, in front of female teammates.

Lim, the 2019 World overall champion, was banned from the team for a year and later found guilty of sexual harassment before the verdict was overturned on appeal.

It was reported in March 2021 that Lim was in the process of trying to gain Chinese nationality to compete at the Beijing Winter Olympics, but Lim was not cleared to switch by the International Skating Union until this July. His Chinese name is Lin Xiaojun.

Another star South Korean skater, triple 2006 Olympic gold medalist Ahn Hyun-Soo, switched to Russia after not making the 2010 Olympic team. He then won three golds for the host nation as Viktor Ahn at the 2014 Sochi Games.

China’s national team for the upcoming season reportedly does not include veterans Wu Dajing, the nation’s lone gold medalist across all sports at the 2018 Olympics, and Fan Kexin, a three-time Olympic medalist.

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Brigid Kosgei, world record holder, to miss London Marathon

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World record holder Brigid Kosgei withdrew before Sunday’s London Marathon due to a right hamstring injury that has bothered her for the last month.

“My training has been up and down and not the way I would like to prepare to be in top condition,” was posted on Kosgei’s social media. “We’ve decided it’s best I withdraw from this year’s race and get further treatment on my injuries in order to enter 2023 stronger than ever.”

Kosgei, a 28-year-old Kenyan mother of twins, shattered the world record by 81 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She clocked 2:14:04 to smash Brit Paula Radcliffe‘s record from 2003.

Since, Kosgei won the 2020 London Marathon, took silver at the Tokyo Olympics, placed fourth at the 2021 London Marathon and won this past March’s Tokyo Marathon in what was then the third-fastest time in history (2:16:02).

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa moved into the top three by winning the Berlin Marathon last Sunday in 2:15:37.

The London Marathon women’s field includes Kenyan Joyciline Jepkosgei, a winner in New York City (2019) and London (2021), and Yalemzerf Yehualaw, who was the Ethiopian record holder until Assefa won in Berlin.

The men’s field is headlined by Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, the second-fastest male marathoner in history, and Brit Mo Farah, a four-time Olympic champion on the track.

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