Break­ing the four-minute bar­rier


Cam­bridge is well and truly on the map as a cen­tre of­fer­ing young sport­ing as­pi­rants a chance to com­pete at an elite level in their cho­sen field.

In­creas­ingly, fam­i­lies choose to lo­cate here, af­ford­ing their kids with the op­por­tu­nity to train in cy­cling, row­ing, ath­let­ics, wa­ter­sports, eques­trian com­pe­ti­tion, triathlon, or nu­mer­ous other sport­ing codes.

Time will re­veal the ‘‘cham­pi­ons-in-the-mak­ing’’ that are among us. Some will pos­sess that ‘‘X’’ Fac­tor which makes for truly ground-break­ing ac­com­plish­ments - whether it be in sport, or equally, in any other en­deav­our.

These will be the ones likely to rise to the chal­lenge of tak­ing things to an­other level of achieve­ment.

In May, 64 years ago, a young 25 year old ex­em­pli­fied the quest for beat­ing records and go­ing ‘‘be­yond’’ known thresh­olds, by be­com­ing the first ath­lete ever, to run a sub four-minute mile.

Roger Ban­nis­ter be­gan the race of his life at If­fley Road Track at Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity, watched by about 3000 spec­ta­tors.

In­formed ex­perts had em­phat­i­cally de­creed that it would be phys­i­o­log­i­cally im­pos­si­ble for a hu­man be­ing to ever run a mile in un­der four min­utes.

This 25-year-old trainee doc­tor be­lieved the lim­i­ta­tion ex­isted in men­tal at­ti­tude, rather than in any phys­i­cal con­straints of the body.

It’s in­spi­ra­tional, to me any­way, watch­ing ac­tual footage of the race with Roger Ban­nis­ter (later Sir), nar­rat­ing in his dig­ni­fied British ‘‘plumb’’.

His voice over, which was added ret­ro­spec­tively, gives won­der­ful in­sight into his thoughts, emo­tions and strate­gies through­out the phases of the race, up to his fin­ish­ing kick with just over a half-lap to go- about 275 yards out from the fin­ish­ing tape.

It was a phe­nom­e­nal achieve­ment -yet his record was so short lived. It was bro­ken only 46 days later by an Aus­tralian run­ner named Landy.

Oth­ers then fol­lowed in rel­a­tively quick suc­ces­sion. The ‘‘four-minute bar­rier’’ had been bro­ken. But it was Roger Ban­nis­ter who broke through a per­ceived ceil­ing and in do­ing so, he paved the way for oth­ers.

Since May 1954, that ceil­ing has been suc­ces­sively bro­ken by over 1400 ath­letes, and it’s now the ac­cepted stan­dard of any male pro­fes­sional mid­dle dis­tance run­ner. To date, the mile record has been low­ered by al­most 17 sec­onds, cur­rently stand­ing at 3:43.13.

Be­com­ing a dis­tin­guished neu­rol­o­gist, Sir Roger Ban­nis­ter felt prouder of his con­tri­bu­tion to med­i­cal sci­ence than he ever was of break­ing the four minute mile. The point here is that peo­ple who be­lieve greater things are pos­si­ble, help cre­ate break­through mo­men­tum for oth­ers.

Those who be­lieve, dream and pur­sue big­ger and bet­ter things, in spite of chal­lenges, are a gift to us all. They pro­vide in­spi­ra­tion to forge be­yond ex­is­tent lim­i­ta­tions. Cam­bridge is a won­der­ful com­mu­nity, blessed with peo­ple full of amaz­ing God-given po­ten­tial. May our renown and place on the map, be for cham­pi­oning hope and en­cour­ag­ing in oth­ers the re­al­i­sa­tion of their high­est pos­si­bil­ity.

-Mur­ray Smith is the Se­nior Pas­tor at Bridges Church Cam­bridge Cam­bridge Edi­tion wel­comes let­ters and opin­ion ar­ti­cles to its Con­ver­sa­tions page. Let­ters can be about 200 words and opin­ion ar­ti­cles, 400 words. Please send in your con­tri­bu­tions to:

Mur­ray Smith, Bridges Church.

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