6 May 2024 – Düsseldorf

Seventy years since British student's triumph

At 18:07 local time on 6 May 1954, a student-athlete from Great Britain completed a feat still regarded as one of the finest ever in the history of track and field. The first person in the world to run a mile in under four minutes, Roger Bannister did it on a cinder track at his own university in Oxford, while wearing heavy spikes and in conditions more suited to sailing than running.

Less than a year earlier, the New Zealander Mountaineer Sir Edmund Hilary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay had become the first people to stand atop Everest, the world’s highest peak. In the sphere of athletics, however, the sub-four-minute mile was a mountain long thought unconquerable. 

But not by Bannister, a 25-year-old medical student who had even helped to lay the track used for the annual race between Oxford University students and the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of England and Wales. His winning time of 3:59.4 minutes is even more remarkable in the context of his preparation: training sessions jammed in around studying hard and working shifts at a hospital.

First person in the world to run a mile in under four minutes

  • Bannister went 0.6 seconds under four minutes

  • He was 25 at the time and studying medicine at Oxford

  • His world record time of 3:59.4 minutes stood for only 46 days

  • He retired from running after receiving his medical degree in 1955

  • Bannister went on to become one of Britain’s leading neurologists

  • The running track at Oxford was renamed in his honour

A dedicated student-athlete at the peak of their powers – sound familiar?

In this respect Bannister was much like many of the several thousand hopefuls who will convene in North-Rhine Westphalia next summer for the Rhine-Ruhr 2025 FISU World University Games. And while nobody knows if a university might again produce anything as spectacular as Bannister’s record run, we can be certain of one thing.

The 12 days of sporting action in Bochum, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Essen and Mülheim an der Ruhr next summer will deliver so many unforgettable moments, with student-athletes going faster, higher and stronger than even they thought possible.