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Setting Roger on the right track

BANNISTER: Sir Roger breaks the four-minute mile in 1954

There was once a medical student called Roger who happened to be a brilliant athlete… no, not that one.

But when Roger Black was trying to juggle his medical studies at Southampton University with the demands of athletics training, he knew exactly who to ask for advice.

The teenager wrote to Sir Roger Bannister who, perhaps more than any other human being, achieved the best of both. Sir Roger, who died this week, could only train during breaks in his lectures but became the first to break the four-minute mile in 1954, and then went on to an eminent career in neurology.

Mr Black told BMA News: ‘I hadn’t been sure of what to do, but I thought that Roger Bannister was the most famous medic who had also been an athlete, so I wrote to him. It was a real surprise when a handwritten letter came back from him.

‘He said in the letter that athletics was slightly different from when he was doing it. His advice was basically to go with what your heart says.’

And so he made his choice, at a time in the 1980s when athletics was making the transition from amateur to semi-professional and it was difficult to imagine an athlete succeeding with the minimal time that Roger Bannister was able to commit to training.

Britain lost a future doctor – but gained a 400m and 4x400m athlete who won Commonwealth, European and world titles and three Olympic medals.

Mr Black, now a motivational speaker, has no regrets. ‘Medicine was not my calling,’ he said.

For Roger Bannister, it very much was. At the peak of his athletic powers, he retired from the track and got on with his career in medicine.

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