OXFORD, England – At the London Diamond League track meet July 13, ten of the 11 finishers in the men’s mile run broke four minutes.
The only rare thing now about that time is how few chances elite international athletes get to run the mile these days, as the metric mile (1,500 meters) has become the standard distance in most big meets, including the Olympics.
But there still is a special feeling about the place where a runner first broke what seemed like the insurmountable barrier of the four-minute mile, even if the cinder track on which it occurred was long ago replaced by an all-weather surface, now called the Roger Bannister Track.
In classic British understatement, the only mementos I could find of Bannister’s epic four laps around the old Iffley Road track on May 6, 1954 are tucked inside the Oxford University Sport building.
There are an enlarged version of a newspaper story, a photograph of Bannister straining at the finish, an explanation giving context to the achievement, the finishing post, a few of the cinders, and the bell that signaled the final lap. The stopwatch that recorded the final time, 3:59.4, was supposed to be in the display case with the other items but was missing, with no explanation.
On July 10, Bannister, 83, walked the Olympic flame past the Iffley Road finish line as part of the London 2012 torch relay. There has been considerable speculation as to whether he might be chosen to light the cauldron during Friday’s opening ceremony.
Bannister was a medical student when he became the track and field version of Edmund Hillary, who had conquered Everest almost exactly a year earlier. Human beings were not supposed to be able to go where these two men had.
On Sunday, the first true summer afternoon of 2012 in England, a few students jogged around the track.
Bannister competed in the 1952 Olympics, finishing fourth in the 1,500 meters. He never won an Olympic medal.
The mile record now is 3:43.13.
As of June 8, the number of athletes who had run a sub-four mile was 1,252.
Yet Iffley Road will always be a landmark, site of a sports moment that is truly Olympian. When I stepped onto the track, now burnt red instead of ash gray, it still felt like hallowed ground.Copyright © 2015, RedEye