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You're reading: Mile legend Bannister attends Olympic 1,500 final

LONDON — Roger Bannister will forever be remembered for four laps around the track.

So
it was fitting that the first man to break the four-minute mile 58
years ago was front and center in the Olympic Stadium on Tuesday night
to watch the men’s 1,500 meters, known as the metric mile.

“I feel
I never really left,” the 83-year-old Bannister told The Associated
Press after seeing Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi break away down the
stretch to take the Olympic gold medal, the one prize he never
collected.

Sitting with him on this special night was Sebastian
Coe, the former two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500 and head
organizer of the London Games.

“Of all the people that I knew had
to be in that stadium on the night of the 1,500 meters, it had to be
Roger Bannister,” Coe said. “It was one of my dreams come true. He is
the senior partner of the milers.”

Also rushing over to pay his
respects was Hicham El Guerrouj, the former Olympic champion who still
holds the world records in the 1,500 and the mile.

“He’s my hero,” the Moroccan said. “He’s our spiritual father in the 1,500 and the mile.”

There they were, three generations of middle-distance greats, all in the same room.

Bannister
ran in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, finishing a disappointing fourth in
the 1,500, a race many expected him to win. It was that failure that
pushed him to continue running and chase the four-minute milestone, a
barrier that some thought was physically impossible.

On a windy
late afternoon in Oxford on May 6, 1954, Bannister covered four laps on a
cinder track in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, an achievement that still
stands as one of the seminal moments in track history.

On Tuesday,
the Oxford-educated neurologist sat in the stands for the evening
session that included the women’s 100-meter hurdles final and women’s
200-meter heats. He was then invited to join Coe in the Olympic family
seats for the 1,500.

Accompanied by his daughter Erin, Bannister walked with a cane and leaned on the arm of an assistant.

Greeted
warmly by Coe, they sat together and chatted animatedly as the runners
ran a slow pace. They rose to their feet with the rest of the crowd as
Makhloufi sprinted away to win in 3 minutes, 34.08 seconds.

Bannister dissected the race liked the tactician on the track he once was himself.

“‘I
mean it was faster than the heats and semifinals, which were very
disappointingly bunched up,” he said. “It was wonderful to see the move
at 300 meters from the end, boldly fighting off any possibility of a
threat. It was a great race. 3:34.”

Said Coe: “Everything with Roger is very analytical: ‘Why on earth has he done that?'”

The
time was slow by today’s standards. Guerrouj’s world record, set in
1998, is 3:26.00. Noah Ngeny’s Olympic record is 3:32.07. Coe was quick
to point out that Tuesday’s time was far off his previous Olympic record
of 3:32:53, set at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“It’s very unusual
to get world records broken when there are 12 runners,” Bannister said.
“The concern today is to win the race. The time is purely secondary. If
the time becomes too slow, them its disappointing for everyone. So this
was just about in between.”

Bannister shattered an ankle in a car
accident in 1975 and has been unable to run since then. He had a
distinguished 40-year medical career since retiring after the 1954
Empire Games and was knighted in 1975.

Last month, Bannister
carried the Olympic torch on the same Oxford track where he broke four
minutes. Many had considered him the favorite to light the cauldron at
the opening ceremony, but that honor went to seven teenage athletes.

Tuesday’s appearance at the Olympic track won’t be his last.

Bannister will be back Friday for the women’s 1,500.

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