The shoes worn by Sir Roger Bannister when he became the first man to run a mile in under 4 minutes 61 years ago are going on the auction block.
A few days ago, one of the stopwatches that timed Bannister’s historic run, sold at auction for $31,000.
“These shoes are the last tangible link I have with the four-minute mile. All my trophies are now on display at Pembroke College Oxford,” Bannister revealed. “They served me great purpose, I’m grateful to them. I think it’s the right time to part with them and I plan to give part of the proceeds to the Autonomic Charitable Trust which encourages the area of neurological research to which I have devoted most of my life. Other worthwhile causes in which I have an interest will also benefit.”
Bannister started his running career as a medical student at Oxford in 1946 and showed great promise as a ‘miler’. He was selected as an Olympic ‘possible’ in 1948 and went on to compete in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki where he finished fourth, and set a new British record of 3:46.30 (3:46.0) in the 1500 meters. After missing out on a medal, Bannister set himself a new goal: to be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes.
The historic race took place on May 6, 1954 during a meet between the British AAA (Amateur Athletics Association) and Oxford University at Iffley Road Track in Oxford. The race was broadcast live by BBC Radio and commented on by 1924 Olympic 100 meters champion Harold Abrahams, of Chariots of Fire fame.
The shoes Bannister wore for the race were made by Charles Law of GT Law and Son, Wimbledon Park, and weighed four and a half ounces, much lighter than any existing shoes. In his memoir Twin Tracks Bannister remembers going to St Mary’s hospital, where he was studying, on the morning of the race.
“I was sharpening my spikes on a grindstone in the laboratory. Someone passing said, ‘You don’t really think that’s going to make any difference, do you?’ Then I rubbed graphite on the spikes so that the wet cinder of the track might be less likely to stick to the spikes.”
Bannister had a distinguished career in neurological medicine and was in 2005 given the first lifetime achievement award from the American Neurological Association. He made leading academic contributions to the field of autonomic failure.
He became the first ever chairman of the Sports Council and was knighted for his service in 1975. Forbes magazine named his historic time as the ‘Greatest Athletic Achievement of the 20th century’. He was also the first recipient of the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award for 1954.