- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

What Roger Bannister did for track and field in 1954, he did for mankind.

“Rather like Everest,” said the then 25-year-old Oxford University medical student, who was the first human to break four minutes in the mile. “A challenge to the human spirit… that seemed to defy all attempts to break it.”

Fifty years later, the American Running Association - the nonprofit advocacy organization for running and walking - invited Bannister to the District to honor him and many of the world’s best milers at its honors gala.

“Bannister started the move to reach unreachable goals in running,” said Dave Watt, executive director of the group. “His feat deserved to be honored and documented.”

But at that time, terrorist groups targeted specific air routes.

“Heightened terrorist threats to aircraft flying from London to Washington, D.C., airports gave Bannister and his wife pause to travel,” Watt said. “He felt obligated to us, so he offered to film a spot for our event. I took that opening to ask him if he’d agree to a video interview if we came to his home in Oxford, England.”

Watt and Geoff Hollister, one of Nike’s pioneers, flew to Oxford and filmed an interview led by Hollister that they transformed into a DVD titled “Bannister Breaks the Barrier.” The DVD shows original footage of the race, with Bannister narrating the color commentary.

“What we did not realize at the time was that Bannister’s answers and comments fit perfectly as commentary to the original BBC footage of the historic race on May 6, 1954,” Watt said. “Our goal was to have a short film to show at the honors gala as a centerpiece for the gathering of other top sub-four-minute milers.”

Sir Roger even exhibits a sheet of his workouts before the first world’s first sub-four, but true to the medical professional that he is - a neurologist - it’s not easy to read the notes.

Watt said the American Running Association has put the finishing touches on the mini-documentary on Bannister’s mile race. Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight agreed to provide an introductory video commentary on how Bannister’s follow-up race in Vancouver against his chief rival, John Landy of Australia, later in 1954 inspired Knight and his running career, which eventually led to Nike’s creation.

The video is concise, but it’s chilling to watch Bannister streak around the spectator-lined track, collapsing into the arms of a friend and then crediting the break in the weather and his Amateur Athletic Association teammates - pacers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway - for the record 3:59.4.

The barrier was conquered. Amazingly, just a month later, Landy bettered the Iffley Road record with 3:57.9.

The DVD is available for $15 plus $6 shipping by e-mailing [email protected] or by calling 301/913-9517 ext. 13.

Watt, a huge supporter of high school track who’s now fighting Fairfax County’s possible plan to eliminate indoor track, said he will provide free copies to high school meet directors who agree to give them to mile finishers at any track meet May 9, the American Running Association’s “National Run a Mile Day.”

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