At their best, sports are about more than just winning games and diverting crowds. They test the limits of what the human body and spirit can achieve. A great athlete performing at the peak of their powers is as moving as a Shakespearean tragedy or a Bach sonata.
When Bannister crossed the finish line of Oxford’s Iffley Road track on May 6, 1954, he could hardly see straight. Completing the mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, he had not only trimmed two seconds off the world record, but also run the world’s first sub-four-minute mile.
“People thought it was like bouncing off a brick wall,” explains close rival John Landy, who had come within three seconds of the four-minute mark six times.
“It was a sense of relief,” says Bannister, recalling the momentous event more than 50 years later. “There was a mystique, a belief that it couldn’t be done, but I think it was more of a psychological barrier than a physical barrier.”
#1 Roger Bannister: Sub-Four-Minute Mile
#2 Lance Armstrong: Seven Consecutive Tour de France Victories
#3 Jesse Owens: Four World Records In 70 Minutes
#4 Nadia Comaneci: Seven Perfect 10s
#5 Joe DiMaggio: 56-Game Hitting Streak
#6 Muhammad Ali: Three Heavyweight Titles
#7 Mark Spitz: Seven Gold Medals
#8 Gertrude Ederle: Swims The English Channel In Record Time
#9 Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay: Climb Mt. Everest
#10 Babe Ruth: 60 Home Runs In a Season
#11 Wilt Chamberlain: The 100-Point Game in Basketball
#12 Bob Beamon: World-Record-Shattering Long Jump
#13 Michael Jordan: Ten Seasons At The Top
#14 Bobby Jones: Golf’s Grand Slam
#15 Wayne Gretzky: 2,857 Points in Hockey
#16 Martina Navratilova: 20 Wimbledon Titles
#17 Bill Russell: 11 NBA Championships
#18 Don Larsen: The Perfect World Series Baseball Game
#19 Eric Heiden: Five Individual Winter Gold Medals in speed-skating
#20 Gordie Howe: 33 Professional Hockey Seasons