Barry says that this day in history remains indelible on his psyche for several reasons. He says it was a time in his youth when human endurance seemed to ignore the logic of gravity and sensibility and where, as we were later informed by Captain Kirk in StarTrek, they were prepared to go where no one had dared go before.
It was a time in our lives when rugby league was first played at Wembley Stadium which, in turn, infuriated the football purists. When football north of Adrian’s Wall was about Celtic versus Rangers – some things just don’t change, do they? When England was enjoying the best of cricketing times in the Caribbean – the first time the team had travelled by air to the West Indies. And it was a time in our lives when England’s national football stocks were at an all time low.
It was also the time when the halcyon clime of the Potteries was shattered by Port Vale’s dizzy FA Cup run – only to be beaten at the penultimate hurdle by Len Millard’s men from West Brom.
It was also a time when yours truly was embarking on a junior amateur athletics journey which included an insatiable reading appetite for knowledge about all the great men and women of track, field and cross country.
Anyway, back to my story.
“It’s impossible, no man is capable of such a feat” was the commonly heard cry. Was it? Was it to remain an impossible dream? Just the year before man had conquered Mount Everest – an endurance test that surely rated greater than all the other achievements of my youth and before. So what was so impossible?
One man, and one man alone seemed to know that it was indeed possible to crash through the physical, psychological and time barriers needed to do what no man had done before.
The Australian, John Landy, had tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to break through and run a sub four 4 minute mile. Sadly for John, the prize of being the first man ever to run the mile in under four minutes continued to elude him and although he did eventually run sub four minute miles on six occasions between 1954-7 history will show he was the second, not the first man to do so. That honour belongs to Roger Bannister.
The purists had said many times that it would need near perfect weather conditions, an ideal track, human pace-makers and a body and mind in absolute peak condition to even think of such an assault. Even then, they argued, it would be folly to tempt fate and jeopardise one’s well-being – even life.
During 1953, when man was conquering Everest and Stanley Matthews was conquering Wembley Stadium, Bannister was slowly and surely preparing himself to be the first to conquer the pain barrier and run a sub four minute mile.
The chance came to him on May 6, 1954. The weather conditions were less than perfect and the track was far from ideal. But there were two human pace-makers in Chris. Brasher and Chris. Chatterway. And the man himself was primed near perfect for the occasion. Yes folks, he had determined that this was to be his moment in time. He had determined that his name would be recorded in the book of sporting greats. He had determined to win a place in the sporting Hall of Fame. He had determined that all his planning, training and sacrifices would be realised in the most glorious way.
The plan required Chris. Brasher setting the pace for the first two laps with Chris. Chatterway picking-up the pace-making role in the last one and half laps. If all was going to plan Bannister would take over around 300 yards from home and, with that kicking stride that he would become famous for, head for the finish line. What’s more, Bannister knew that he would have to crash through the physical and psychological pain barriers to stop the clock under four minutes.
The plan worked. Bannister came home in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds.
Should I ever need to be reminded of that moment in time I can take out a newspaper clipping, now slightly crumpled and brown with age, showing Roger Bannister striding across the line to become the first man ever to run a sub four minute mile.
All hail Sir Roger Bannister.
See you later…
May 6, 2004