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01st October 2007 Aroop Mukharji and Jake Gorelov

Athletics in the Chapel

Sir Roger Bannister, who was a student at Exeter College in 1949, is also the man who broke the four-minute mile, an eminent neurologist and the former Master of Pembroke College. He returned to his alma mater last Wednesday night to give a lecture in the Chapel to members of the College community.

Bannister focused his talk on recalling his watershed athletic achievement that occurred first on the Iffley Road track at Oxford in 1954. “The most common question I get asked is, ‘were you trying to break the four-minute mile?’ I usually defer this question to my wife. ‘If you think running for nine years, six days a week to exhaustion is training to break the four-minute mile, then yes.'”

He described in detail the trials and tribulations of his athletic career, ranging from his admission into and early running days at Oxford to his disappointing fourth-place finish in the 1952 Olympics — where he was the heavy favourite. After concluding his talk, he fielded questions from the crowd.

When asked about the natural physical limits of mankind in running the mile, he believed the 3:30 and 4:00 threshold for men and women respectively would never be crossed. Bannister also noted that steroids and drug use, which are afflicting the sports world, can alter the capabilities of the human body, citing runners like Marion Jones who recently relinquished five Olympic medals after admitting to steroid use.

The unique location for a lecture — the College Chapel — took Bannister on a trip down memory lane back to his days at Oxford. He encouraged students to listen to the Chapel Choir’s evening serenades — something he remembered vividly. Bannister ended the evening, urging students to take advantage of all Oxford has to offer and to treasure the life-long friends that one will make here.

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