Seb Coe describes “a day of intense sadness” following the death of the sub-four-minute mile legend

Tributes have been paid to athletics great Sir Roger Bannister following his death aged 88.

Achieving ‘the Everest of athletics’, he was the first person to run a sub-four-minute mile with a time of 3:59.4 at Iffley Road track in Oxford on May 6, 1954.

Bannister (pictured above, left, with John Landy) later became a distinguished neurologist then the Master of Pembroke College at Oxford University and always considered his medical achievements to be far superior to his sporting successes.

Having made a huge difference in both the sporting and medicine worlds, his death has saddened many and tributes have been paid across the globe.

“This is a day of intense sadness both for our nation and for all of us in athletics,” said IAAF president Seb Coe. “There is not a single athlete of my generation who was not inspired by Roger and his achievements both on and off the track.

“On the 6 May 1954, Roger made the impossible possible,” added the two-time Olympic 1500m champion, speaking at an IAAF Heritage launch event. “One year after the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth II and after man conquered Everest, Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile with the help of his friends Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher.

“The world’s best runners had been attempting the four-minute barrier for a quarter of a century. It was as much of a psychological barrier as it was a physical barrier. Bannister’s assault allowed mankind to enter a world filled with new possibilities.

“His achievement transcended sport, let alone athletics. It was a moment in history that lifted the heart of a nation and boosted morale in a world that was still at a low ebb after the war.

“We have all lost a giant and, for many of us, a deep and close friendship.”

Echoing the sentiment of many who spent time in the presence of Bannister, Wendy Sly, Olympic 3000m silver medallist in 1984, said: “I feel privileged to have met a true pioneer in our sport.

“A great man, as well as a great athlete, he continued to give back to the sport he loved, but was always so modest about his most memorable achievement.”

Tom McNab, the coach, writer and athletics historian, said: “There could not have been less appropriate conditions for an attempt on the four-minute mile, but Roger had seized the moment. This being said, he placed more value on his 1954 Empire Games victory over John Landy, the classic example of the front-runner against an opponent with a sprint-finish.

“Three minutes fifty nine point four seconds will be with us forever, like a frozen flower, and with it the memory of a fine man who made a unique contribution to neurology.”

Olympic 10,000m medallist Brendan Foster said: “Roger’s achievement served as an inspiration to future generations of British runners. His presence will be missed but his inspiration will last forever.”

USA’s 13-time global medallist Bernard Lagat‏ wrote on Twitter: “Sad to learn of Roger Bannister’s death – the first man to break 4min in a mile. The great legend I had an honor of meeting a few years ago. RIP.”

World marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe‏ also paid tribute, writing: “Saddened to hear the news that we have lost one of the true pioneers, trailblazers and iconic inspirations of our sport. Sir Roger Bannister showed that barriers are there to be broken and there are no limits.”

Her fellow former British marathoner Mara Yamauchi shared a moment from during her career which highlights how Bannister’s achievements came as an amateur athlete.

“Very sad to hear Sir Roger Bannister has died,” she wrote. “Met him when I was a full-time athlete and he said “And what’s your day job?” Eminent neurologist and first ever sub-four miler. What a legend!”

Calls for a mile in memory were also made, with Charlie Da’Vall Grice commenting: “A true icon, doing what others said cannot be done.

“Would love to run a mile at Iffley Road in remembrance.”

» Read a tribute piece by AW editor Jason Henderson here