Sir Roger Bannister Extra Time


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Sir Roger Bannister

Sir Roger Bannister, the first person to run the sub-four minute mile, talks to Rob Bonnet on the same track in Oxford where he broke the record in 1954.


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Now on BBC News,

it's time for Extra Time.

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Welcome. Following the recent death

of Sir Roger Bannister, we thought

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you might like to seek for a second

time a special interview he gave the

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programme in May 2000 and four. It

was recorder on the 50th anniversary

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of the day when he became the first

man to run a sub four-minute mile.

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We met on the same track in Oxford

where this historic achievement took

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place. Welcome to the special

edition of extra time.

Just like

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1954. High winds, cold.

You just

need a bit more rain. It really is

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very similar?

Absolutely. It is

England, early May. Equinoctial

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upsets in weather. A really stupid

time to try to break a record. But

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there we are. John Landy was on the

way to Finland.

This was your great

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rival.

The American confidence, he

was called the Kansas cowboy, and he

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said, I'm going to do it.

You beat

him to it, and you beat John Landy.

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Before we talk specifically about

that day here, 50 years ago, but the

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four-minute mile into a context for

me. It was described by Landy is a

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concrete wall, something that was

impossible to do.

Like a cement

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wall. He had done 4.2 on six

occasions. Only 15 yards. We just

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didn't seem to be able to get

through that. He was talking about

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it being a physical barrier, but I

couldn't see that. Four minutes two,

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under the conditions, it pace

judgement, you can break four

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minutes. It was a psychological

barrier.

But it was a barrier that

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galvanised not only the British

public, but athletics fans around

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the world.

They had been talking

about it for almost 100 years. Pas

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voters did for point ten. Everything

was moving in that direction. It was

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clear that somebody was going to do

it. Well, the Swedes did four

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minutes 1.4. They were not involved

in the war. 1953... 1943.

They

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flip-flopped six times.

They had the

crucial ingredient to break records,

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which was several of them, all of

comparable calibre.

It was the era

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of trying to recognise achievement.

That the point.

I think so. Britain

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wasn't dead of the country, and I

did try to do it in 1953. I thought

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that would be rather nice. The pace

judgement was not fast enough. The

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three quarters was 3.05, and you

cannot do the last lap. It all had

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to wait then until everything was

ready for May 19 54.

And it came to

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it in a sense of a very

disappointing Olympics in 1952.

That

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is why I did it, why I went on. I

had, my innocence, planned to win

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the Olympic gold medal in Helsinki,

1500 metres, and my medical studies

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were getting more and more demanding

and so I had planned to retire at

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the end of story. I did so badly,

everyone was so disappointed, the

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press said, you should have done

this and that, if only you had

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listened to us, you would have won

it. The chances of winning an

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Olympic title are always against

you. John Landy didn't win in

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Melbourne, Ron Delany came through.

I suppose that is why spot -- sport

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is fascinating.

So you hatched a

plan.

Yes, we had run together for

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years and the secret was to do the

three quarters mile within three

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minutes flat, and training to be a

steeplechaser, he didn't have the

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speed to go further than half a mile

and the first lap, I got a bit

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impatient and I shouted, faster,

faster!

We're going to fast already?

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I want to hear about the plans...

The plan was very simple. It

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couldn't have been simpler. Chris

Brasher would run a mile and

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Kristian away with takeover and he

would go on as long as he could and

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then I would take over.

It is all

about pacing. As far as the

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preparation was concerned, on the

day, when you look at how

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professional athletes themselves

ready now for major championships,

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with all due respect, your

preparations were pretty...

Ltd. I

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went to the medical school. I didn't

feel like doing much work -- Ltd. A

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sharpened up my spikes. We ran on

very loose -- primitive. I think

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they think the cinders were about...

Iran about four seconds slobber.

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Rubbed a little graphite on the

spikes. So they would come in and

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out neatly without collecting cinder

and ash.

This is your medical school

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in London, wasn't it?

Yes. And then

got a train, and as it happened,

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when I was going, the coach to Crisp

ratio and then to Chris chat away

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and then I joined the trio, and...

You bumped into him on the train?

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Yes. I said, I reckoned at that time

it wasn't worth attempting, as even

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if I'd exhorted myself in the

impossible weather and done or .1,

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everyone would be disappointed and,

oh, he has failed.

Are you saying

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this was the one and only

opportunity?

It was the first

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opportunity that year, and John

Landy had just arrived in Finland.

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He had finished the Australian

summer, our winter, and the Finns

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had said, you know, they knew he was

looking at the door, and they said

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come to Finland, they give you the

pasting you need, and there were

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perfect tracks and the Finns were

also absolutely obsessed almost with

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running, so it had to be done very

quickly, and that was why one would

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normally think of trying to break a

record on a windy, wet, cold English

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May Day.

So you're right at Oxford

station with your coach, then you

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went and had lunch with a friend...

The people I have stayed with when I

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was earlier studying here, I had

left Oxford, and I had lunch with

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the children and just tried to allow

my mind... The waiting is one of the

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worst parts of athletics.

Perhaps

any sport.

Participation in

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anticipation, fear. And you value

will never go through this again.

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You say absolutely it isn't worth

this agony. And then the thought

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was, well, will I get another

chance? Will Landy do it first?

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Would you forgive yourself if you

missed this possible opportunity?

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And eventually, I reckon about half

an hour before I was looking at a

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flag on that church steeple, which

the flat was broken, but it will be

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here on the sixth. I used that as a

wind gauge.

And what was telling

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you?

It was telling me about half an

hour before, that things were

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beginning to slacken and get a bit

less windy. So I thought, well,

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let's do it. I hope the wind stays

down, you know, a gentle five

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minutes, and then Chris Brasher did

a false start, which was a waste of

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time.

You must have been serious

then.

Well, he is not usual to make

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false starts in the mile. So then

Brasher leads off... He leads off

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and I think he's going to slowly

because I suppose I have had a rest

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for several days from running, and

so I shout, faster, faster, and he

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takes no notice whatsoever. He said,

well, I thought I was probably doing

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it at the right speed, and he said,

I couldn't go any faster anyway. So

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he does a good first lap, 58, you

run the first 15 yards faster, you

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sprint until you get a good

position.

The Times were called out.

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Everybody could hear the time. The

new settled down to what is a

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four-minute mile pace, as closely as

you can, 60 seconds, and they did

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the next lap in 60 seconds, so it

was a 1.5 8/2 mile.

You knew you

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were on course at that time.

We were

absolutely on course. He felt we

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were slowing and I think, I said,

you know, whatever I did say to him,

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Chris, come up, Chris chat away. And

then he took over. It is inevitable

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that the third lap slows, you know,

it just happens in pretty well all

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races. And Chris took me through the

three quarters mile in three minutes

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point five. So we had slowed at the

last lap was, the third lap was 62,

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and so I had to do the last lap in

59 and I was really trying to decide

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what moment to overtake him. Because

it was a help, while he was the head

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and gave the right speed, and if I

had overtaken him on the next two

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last bend, I would have had to have

run wide and that would have been a

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bit of total extra distance and I

didn't want to run more than 1760

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yards. So I waited until he was

really just coming into the straight

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and I could overtake him without

running any extra distance.

And then

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I had to... The last 100 yards or

so.

The whole of the last corner,

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bend, and the finishing straight, I

just didn't know whether my legs

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were getting slower, although my

brain was telling them to very much

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keep going.

We are about ten yards

or so now from the line.

We are near

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the line now.

As you reach this

point, what were you feeling is that

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moment? You are about to...

Well, my

feelings were that I was so close,

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that I couldn't really believe I'd

failed, other stopwatches held the

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answer and I had to wait, I couldn't

move everyone around, and your blood

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pressure falls because of blood

vessels are rolled violated and

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collapsed. I think about the time I

was recovering, I heard them making

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the great announcement, which he

said he had rehearsed in the bath

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the night before.

You know what it

was. Well, it was that he started

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with three minutes, and that nobody

else heard anything...

1200 people

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there... It was and that he started

with three minutes, it was the

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preamble, you know, everybody was

waiting, and he said the result is

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number 41... Banister of Exeter and

Merton College in a time which,

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subject to ratification, will be

track record, English record,

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English native record, British

allcomers record, European record,

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world record and then three.

That

was it. In the immediate aftermath.

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The sense of achievement, your

parents were here as well, won't

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they?

I didn't ask them. They were

brought without my knowledge. No, I

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suppose that we went off to London,

the BBC's sportsnight had just been

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started and so I was on that, and we

went off and had dinner, friends,

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partners, and we thought, well, we

might as well wait and see what the

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newspaper said. So we went into a

nightclub until about two will clock

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in the morning and we thought, well,

it does seem to be causing quite a

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kerfuffle.

You had some cabaret in

the nightclub, is that right?

I

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don't think I did. They said I sung

something, but it is inconceivable,

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impossible.

We left using time on

your hands on a nightclub on the

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following day.

You have claimed

that, but I could not possibly

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comment.

You certainly celebrated

the achievement. You had about two

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hours sleep as I understand it that

night. The following day, busy

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again, in London, at Oxford, back to

London, and the press by now were...

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The three of us did have a bit of

time together and we climbed Harrow

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Hill, not much of a hill, and we

look doubt that evening over London,

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because he could see the lights, and

I remember a conversation with them,

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they may not remember it, but what

should we do now? And of course, we

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won't just thinking about athletics.

Which of course, was coming to an

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end in one way or another, the

others went on longer, but what you

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do? And for me, it was

straightforward.

I would go on and

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do medicine. Let me take you forward

six weeks to mid June and Finland,

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and Tokyo and -- Landi breaks

record.

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Are new here would do it, it was

questionable whether we get it here

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before he did because we had shown

that he was physically capable,

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probably stronger I was and he just

needed to have a decent pace in the

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early part of the race.

He shattered

it really, took it down the. -- took

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down the.

Yes, that is 12 or

whatever.

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down the.

Yes, that is 12 or

whatever.

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down the.

Yes, that is 12 or

whatever.

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down the.

Yes, that is 12 or

whatever. As far as that was

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whatever. As far as that was

concerned, your contacts with Landy

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were not especially frequent, but he

sent congratulations after your

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record and he sent him.

You just

wonder whether there might not have

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been some kind of professional

jealousy.

I was much more friendly

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with him and actually got to know

him after the race in Vancouver. I

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think before you race against a

major opponent, jealousy is not the

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word, it's just you are a bit

circumspect. You are supposed to be

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racing against them. They are, in a

metaphorical sense, the enemy. But

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afterwards it didn't matter at all

and we have kept in touch, we see

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one another every year and he is now

Governor of Victoria and on his way

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to England now.

You have mentioned

Vancouver, why do we go there now?

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This was another six weeks, it was

the Empire games and you arrived

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some two weeks before the final and

you met Landy as soon as you arrived

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and it then didn't see him again

until the race.

No, we were not

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seeking each other out but we really

happened to coincide in our

0:16:460:16:50

training. I did most of my training

away from the track, he did those of

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his on the track.

Leaving secretive?

Well no, I ran on grass because by

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then I could work as hard as I would

on the track and it was so much

0:17:010:17:05

easier and less strain on the

muscles, so I didn't regard track

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running. This was clearly a big

deal. It was more important than the

0:17:100:17:15

Formula 1 and this is the race I was

aiming at.

And not just because it

0:17:150:17:20

was the centrepiece of the Empire

games but in the end because

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athletics is about eating and not

setting records.

Yes, and if Landy

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had beaten me, I don't think the

four minute mile would have

0:17:300:17:35

mattered, he would have been the

best.

Talk us through that.

It was a

0:17:350:17:40

very hot day, quite different from

the day in May. Conditions were good

0:17:400:17:49

and Landy ran off immediately.

Like

a train.

And I thought he is too

0:17:490:17:59

fast, he will either break the world

record by five seconds or he will

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slow down, in which case I will have

the advantage of. I decided that as

0:18:030:18:07

the early part of the race was so

fast, instead of starting a sprint

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at 200 or something, I had to leave

it late and that was the moment when

0:18:150:18:19

I put the first in the.

That was the

strength of your game, a strong

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finish. As you crossed the line, I

ask you in a sense to recapture the

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moment, this was bigger than the

four-minute mile.

That was the first

0:18:320:18:39

time that two people had done at. I

would say the feeling was really,

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relief. It could have gone badly and

in a sense it rather made up for

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failure in Helsinki and I only got

one more race to go before retiring

0:18:510:18:58

and that race was the European race

and I think by then I was feeling

0:18:580:19:03

fairly confident that I could handle

that one. Release, you know, career

0:19:030:19:08

over and as I said in the diary as I

wrote, FINIS.

Let me conclude by

0:19:080:19:18

asking you a personal question. What

is your philosophy of running?

I put

0:19:180:19:24

it in the new edition of the book

which I put 50 years ago, which I

0:19:240:19:29

didn't expect to return to.

0:19:290:19:31

Saying that they were something

about my description of my early

0:19:340:19:37

life which sort of rather inspire

them try to do things. The way I had

0:19:370:19:44

put it, I reflected on rereading

this book, that however ordinary

0:19:440:19:50

each of us may seem, we are all in

somewhere special and can do that

0:19:500:19:54

are extraordinary,

0:19:540:19:58

somewhere special and can do that

are extraordinary,. And when the

0:19:580:20:00

broad sweep of life is viewed,

sport, instinctive and physical,

0:20:000:20:05

illustrates a universal truth that

most of us find effort and struggled

0:20:050:20:12

deeply satisfying, harnessing and

almost primaeval instinct to fight

0:20:120:20:15

and to survive. I think that is what

I would say, but I don't believe

0:20:150:20:19

that running was really more than a

metaphor for other struggles and

0:20:190:20:29

everybody is trying to balloon to

the Atlantic and died 400 feet,

0:20:290:20:34

everybody has a was wanted to do

this and it is fine if you don't

0:20:340:20:38

risk your life doing it and you

don't risk other people 's lives

0:20:380:20:42

trying to, when you haven't done it.

You have talked and written also

0:20:420:20:47

that the freedom that running gives

you.

Yes. Freedom of choice. When I

0:20:470:20:53

was chairman of the sports Council I

believed that every person, nearly

0:20:530:20:56

everybody, had some kind of

psychological link which made them

0:20:560:21:03

attuned to a certain activity, seem

more solitary, climbing mountains,

0:21:030:21:11

playing cricket. This range should

be explored by the young because at

0:21:110:21:19

the age of 13, 14, you don't know

what you are going to be best at.

0:21:190:21:23

Your body shape can change. I

believe that if they trying --a

0:21:230:21:29

choice of activities were wide

enough, you find something

0:21:290:21:32

irresistible and get involved at

about five years later he probably

0:21:320:21:36

achieve quite a lot of success and

you find you have grown up, you have

0:21:360:21:41

learned a lot. That is what I would

like to give as a message.

Thank you

0:21:410:21:45

very much for joining us on this

addition of Extra Time.

0:21:450:21:53

In 2004 Extra Time's Rob Bonnet spoke to the late Sir Roger Bannister on the same track in Oxford where he first broke the sub-four minute mile record. On May the 6th 1954 25-year old Roger Bannister set out to break what had seemed an impenetrable barrier in athletics - to run the mile in less than four minutes. For decades, the prevailing thought in the sports community was that the feat was impossible and, even if it were accomplished, it would so overtax the body that death would result. Bannister proved them wrong crossing the finish line in three minutes 59.4 seconds.