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Supermiler Bannister reveals he has Parkinson’s diseaseMay 2, 2014
The first man to run a sub-four-minute mile says he was diagnosed with the condition three years ago
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of his first sub-four-minute mile, Sir Roger Bannister, who went on to become a distinguished neurologist following his achievements on the track, has described the ‘gentle irony’ of his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease.
The 85-year-old became the first man to dip under the four minute barrier for the distance on May 6, 1954, and the latest issue of Athletics Weekly is dedicated to Bannister’s achievement of running that 3:59.4 at Oxford’s Iffley Road.
As a retired neurologist, Bannister spoke of the ‘gentle irony’.
“I am having troubles with walking. Ironically, it’s a neurological disorder – Parkinson’s disease,” he told BBC Radio Oxford.
“I have seen, and looked after, patients with so many neurological and other disorders that I am not surprised I have acquired an illness.
“It’s in the nature of things, there’s a gentle irony to it.
“I am being well looked after and I don’t intend to let it interfere – as much as I can.
“Just consider the alternatives – that is the way I look at it. One of my pleasures in life, apart from running, has been walking. Intellectually I am not [degenerating] and what is walking anyway?”
To Bannister, his medical studies were of such importance that, despite his successes, running was merely a pastime.
Had he won Olympic gold in Helsinki in 1952, he says he would have retired from the sport, but having placed fourth he later told AW he felt he had “let down everybody”, so he continued on concentrated training and set his sights on the Empire Games in 1954 and trying to become the first to run a mile in under four minutes.
After John Landy took the world record from him just six weeks after his sub-four performance, Bannister beat him in an epic Empire Games race in 3:58.8. He would also win the European Championships 1500m that year before retiring.
It was his medical career that took over and recently, when speaking to AW for our current sub-four special issue, he said: “I think more about neurology than I do about running, I suppose.
“Running was just for a brief period as a student and there’s now been another 60 years of living. I’m very proud of my wife and my family.”
» You can read more from that interview with Bannister in the May 1 issue of AW