3-12-18 - Dave Newhouse
Headlines around the world chronicled the remarkable feat.
Sir Roger Bannister displaying the shoes
he wore.

Dave Newhouse

Roger Bannister's Four-Minute Mile, Sports' Greatest Achievement?

By  Dave Newhouse
The years have gone by too swiftly, to where dates, locations and events I've covered as a journalist seem to be swirling in a huge mass, difficult to pinpoint.

But I do remember listening to Roger Bannister give a speech at the University of California in San Francisco, though I can't remember when it was or what it was about, most likely neurology, his specialty in the field of medicine.

I just went there to see this man who made sports history in 1954. I can't remember a word he said that day, if I even understood it, then he virtually brushed by me when I tried to interview him afterward, which was all right by me. For this was Roger Bannister, who pulled off the most significant sports accomplishment in history.

If that comment seems a stretch, either you weren't around or paying attention when Bannister, a medical student, became the first man to break the four-minute barrier in the mile run, with a clocking of 3:59.4 at the University of Oxford's Iffley Road track.

What made his accomplishment even more remarkable was that scientists were convinced at the time that a sub-four minute mile was humanly impossible, and that to attempt it would be so strenuous that it might end in death. I was a high school shot-putter at the time, so I was intensely in to everything track and field, and keenly aware of all the hyperbole surrounding the four-minute mile.

Sir Roger Bannister died at 88 on Saturday, March 3 in Oxford, the city in which he achieved his unthinkable milestone, but not his greatest attainment. He placed his advancements in neurology on a higher plateau. It's left to the rest of us to debate the matter.

So what do you think is the greatest sports achievement? Jim Thorpe winning the decathlon and pentathlon in the same 1912 Olympics? Bob Beamon's 29-foot long jump when nobody else had yet jumped 28 feet? Jesse Owens winning four track gold medals in the 1936 Olympics? Mark Spitz winning seven swim medals in the 1972 Olympics? Whatever Michael Phelps has done since in the pool? Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) stopping Sonny Liston the first time? Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson? Babe Didrikson Zaharias doing whatever as the greatest female athlete ever?

Remarkable moments, remembered athletes, but nobody said what they did was humanly impossible, except for Beamon and Ali. But to possibly die in the quest? Only Roger Bannister fits that conversation.

And he was an amateur, working to become a doctor, when he staggered the universe with his feat. No wonder Sports Illustrated chose him as its first Sportsman of the Year in 1954. Underline "Sportsman," for it never fit any of its subsequent recipients any better.

Bannister was the truest student-athlete, never making a penny off his greatness. His record was broken six weeks later when John Landy ran 3:57.9. They dueled several months later in the Miracle Mile in Vancouver, B.C. Landy looked over his left shoulder to check on Bannister, just as he shot by him on the right to win in 3:58.8 as I watched raptly on television. One more race, and Bannister ran off to neurology for good. But what he did to our nervous systems beforehand was nerve-wracking.

The student-athlete concept doesn't have the same grasp on our conscience as it did 64 years ago when Bannister made the run that brought him knighthood. I remember when Don Bowden took a final at Cal Berkeley, then drove to Modesto and became the first American to run a sub-four minute mile, 3:58.7 in 1957. Another true-student athlete was Don Bowden.

Matching the aura of Roger Bannister, astronaut John Glenn spoke at Oakland's Chabot Space & Science Center. I went there to see, not to interview, this early pioneer in space, though I wrote about him just as I had Bannister. But with some iconic figures, it's simply enough to be in their lofty presence.

The money is so great in sports these days, that there's no need to get a college degree to acquire wealth. LaBron James received $100 million from the Cleveland Cavaliers and another $100 million from NIKE when he graduated from high school, so why would he need college? However, numerous athletes leave college after a year to turn professional and they don't make it and have nothing to fall back on. So it works both ways.

Don't forget, before money was aplenty, plenty of poor kids made it through four years of college, sometimes playing two or three sports, and getting their degrees. Oakland's Kevin Hardy lettered in three sports in one school year at Notre Dame, so it can be done.

Everybody is given a choice, because it's America. I just prefer the student-athlete sport in its purest form. Thank you, Roger Bannister, and rest in peace.

Dave Newhouse's journalism career spans more than half a century, including 45 years at the Oakland Tribune before his retirement in November 2011. His twelfth book, co-authored with Eddie Hart, was published last July and is available in book stores and on Disqualified: Eddie Hart, Munich 1972, and the Voices of the Most Tragic Olympics. Dave grew up in Menlo Park, graduated from San Jose State, and has radio and television experience, in addition to his work as an award-winning sportswriter and columnist.

3-6-17 - Pops

Michael King (left), with an associate from USF (center), and Karla Granadino-King, are pictured at the Olympic Club in San Francisco,  proudly sharing with the world their  Pops Premium Rumpopo. A King family secret, Pops Premium Rumpopo is a  delicious rum cream liqueur recipe brewed in the family tradition.  The award winning recipe is a Belizean family favorite and now available at all Total Wine & More stores in California and Bay Area retailers.
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