Runners taking part in the Bannister Community Mile through the streets of Oxford
Runners turned out in huge numbers to celebrate Sir Roger Bannister's historic achievement on 6 May 1954. Credit: Will Palmer

Thousands turn out to celebrate 70 years since Bannister’s record-breaking run

Historic celebrations including the Bannister Community Mile marked 70 years since Sir Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile at Iffley Road, Oxford

On Monday 6 May, Oxford returned to the centre of national sporting life as thousands of people participated in historic celebrations to mark 70 years since Sir Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile at Iffley Road, Oxford.

The celebrations were organised by the University of Oxford, Oxford University Cross Country Club, and Oxford University Athletic Club, supported by the Bannister family, World Athletics, the British Milers’ Club, and Oxfordshire County Council.  

Proceedings began with the Bannister Community Mile in the morning, where 1,500 participants set off from St Aldate’s and down Oxford’s High Street before finishing at Iffley Road, passing several of Oxford’s most beautiful landmarks along the way.

The fastest mile

The Community Mile was started by Steve Cram CBE, former world champion and mile world record holder. Joining him in the first wave of participants to set off on the mile was current world record holder, Hicham El-Guerrouj, as well as past world record holders – Noureddine Morceli and Filbert Bayi – and members of the Bannister, Chataway, and Brasher families (when Sir Roger made history on 6 May 1954 he did so with the help of friends Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher).

Children setting off on the Bannister Community MileLots of local school children took part in the celebrations. Credit: Will Palmer
Among the other waves was one celebrating World Kids Athletics Day. With support from World Athletics, free entries were provided to local schoolchildren. College and department groups within the University also featured prominently within the Community Mile, joined by local schools, sports clubs, and businesses.

In the afternoon, the Iffley Road Sports Centre hosted the Bannister Track Miles. Almost 3,000 spectators assembled to witness a series of mile races, encompassing junior, veteran, and para races, before the elite men’s and women’s races set off at 6pm, precisely 70 years since Bannister’s record-breaking run.

The women’s race was won by Khahisa Mhlanga in 4.36.09 and the men’s race by Ossama Meslek in 3.56.15 – the fastest mile ever recorded at the Sir Roger Bannister Track.

Three other athletes – James Young, Tiernan Crorken, and Max Wharton – broke the four-minute barrier, delighting the hundreds of spectators gathered along the track.

Afterwards, Ossama Meslek said: ‘We always watch Highgate* and think how great it is, so to have something like that for the mile is great.’

Thurstan Bannister, Sir Roger’s son, added: 'A very high expectations barrier was broken on Monday. Four world record holders watched four athletes go sub-four on the Bannister four-minute mile anniversary and 80% of athletes (about 240 in total) in the track mile races achieved new personal records.  Capacity turnout for a joyful Bannister Community Mile.'

An annual fixture

There was also a global debut for the mile steeplechase, with support from World Athletics. Alice Murray-Gourley and William Battershill won the women’s and men’s races, setting world bests for this new and exciting event.

Throughout the afternoon, attendees enjoyed exhibits from the Museum of World Athletics and witnessed the presentation of World Athletics Heritage Plaques to mark Bannister’s achievement and the contribution of Oxford University Athletic Club to the development of athletics.

Capacity turnout for a joyful Bannister Community Mile

Thurstan Bannister

Jared Martin, Club Captain of Oxford University Cross Country Club, added: ‘As well as elite-level competition, the anniversary events introduced running to many new people, especially children, hundreds of whom participated in the Community Mile. They also helped raise awareness of Bannister’s achievement and of the University of Oxford’s commitment to sporting excellence and community engagement to both local and national audiences.

‘The Sir Roger Bannister Track was filled to capacity throughout the afternoon, opened up to the wider community who were able to enjoy the attractions of the Mile Fair and inspiring displays of athletic endeavour. It demonstrated the great the potential of this sports facility, which will be further increased this summer with a state-of-the-art track renovation.’

It is hoped that Bannister Miles will become an annual fixture on Oxford’s sporting calendar each May.

With continued support from local stakeholders, this inclusive celebration of sport and community can go from strength to strength, building up to the 75th anniversary in 2029.

(*'Highgate' refers to the 'Night of 10000m PBs', an event hosted each year by Highgate Harriers in London that is considered the premier 10,000m racing event in the UK.)