It was the humble love of running that spurred a lanky medical student to change the course of athletics
Roger Bannister made history. His legacy stands in stark contrast to some in modern sport
Roger Bannister, then a gangly medical student, altered history in May 1954 when he became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. The astonishing achievement by an amateur athlete on a cold, wet and gusty day reverberated around the world. The determination of Bannister – who died this week aged 88 – inspired a generation. It is stories like his that make Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed’s Dubai Fitness Challenge and Gov Games initiatives so important. In September 2015, the running shoes Bannister wore that day sold at auction for more than $400,000. Far more than a pair of shoes, they represent the obliteration of physical and psychological obstacles in the service of sporting achievement.
Until recently, one might have heaped similar accolades on cyclist Bradley Wiggins – Britain’s most decorated Olympian – and Team Sky, for whom he rode. But an explosive report released yesterday by UK parliamentarians has detailed how Wiggins and Team Sky “crossed an ethical line” with the provision of a performance-enhancing anti-inflammatory drug called triamcinolone. The team, the MPs said, abused the system of “therapeutic use exemptions” – which permit banned substances for medical conditions – ordering “far more” of the drug than was required for treatment alone. The timings – before Wiggins won the 2012 Tour de France and the 2013 Giro d’Italia – are particularly troubling. As is the unrecorded and unknown contents of a “jiffy-bag” delivered to Wiggins on the final day of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, which he won.
The credibility of Team Sky, which vowed in 2009 to win the Tour de France with a clean British rider, has been severely dented. At risk too is the glittering record of Wiggins. There is a rot at the core of professional cycling; again we have been let down by those we admire most. The contrast with Roger Bannister, a humble amateur athlete propelled by his sincere love of running, could not be more stark. Ahead of Sheikh Hamdan's latest initiative that puts sport at the heart of life in the UAE, we should look to Bannister's legacy. On a shameful week for British cycling, it looks even more significant.