IMPORTANCE OF THE MIND IN SPORT
We shared a place where no man had yet venturedsecure for all time, however fast men might run miles in the future. We had done it where we wanted, when we wanted, how we wanted. In the wonderful joy, my pain was forgotten, (p. 193)
The words are, of course, those of Roger Bannister (1955), the man who as a medical student, training as little as 1 hour a day during his lunch hour, was the first to run the mile in under 4 minutes.
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Latterly, it has become popular to conclude that Bannister’s knowledge of medicine and of exercise physiology (Bannister et al, 1954a, 1954b) explained why he and not other, possibly more gifted, runners like Arne Anderson, Gunder Haegg, Wes Santee, or John Landy had been the first to break that mystical 4-minute barrier. This is an assumption that we have, to our detriment, been making far too long.
Bannister himself would never have considered that his scientific knowledge gave him any sort of advantage. He saw that his medical training really taught him to observe and understand himself better: “A medical training aims at increasing the power of careful observation and logical deduction. Because understanding other people starts from understanding ourselves, the self-analysis which sport entails can be very helpful to the medical student” (Bannister, 1955, p. 121).
What, then, was Bannister’s secret? I think success came first to him because he, better than anyone, perceived that the battle for the 4-minute mile was fought in the mind, not in the body. Gunder Haegg, the man who in 1945 came within 1.3 seconds of breaking the 4-minute mile, wrote this about 1 month before Bannister’s great race: “I think Bannister is the man to beat four minutes. He uses his brains as much as his legs. I’ve always thought the four-minute mile more of a psychological problem than a test of physical endurance” (Doherty, 1964, p. 216).