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Roger Bannister: running the extra mile

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0407287
  1. Peter Cross, freelance journalist

The 50th anniversary of the first four minute mile means that you're likely to have seen a lot of Britain's most famous former medical student on your televisions and in your newspapers. But what happened during his subsequent medical career? Peter Cross went to find out

Recently Roger Bannister has been doing a lot of running around. Not physically, you understand, but metaphorically. A car crash in the 1970s ended his ability to run, but he is still actively involved in sports administration and London's bid for the 2012 Olympics.

Bannister was a medical student at St Mary's, London, when he broke the four minute mile. His record only lasted 44 days but was a remarkable achievement. Athletes had been trying to break this barrier for years, yet the person who finally surmounted it was a committed medical student whose running and training took second place to medical studies. Bannister won the 1500 metre race in the 1954 European Games then turned his back on serious running, concentrating on the career he had always wanted.

Why, I ventured, did he choose medicine, and why neurology?

“Well the brain is the most important organ,” he told me, “I've always accepted challenges, and I felt that to study the brain would be a lifelong challenge, but I might in some way be able to contribute to some little bricks in the wall that …

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