Revealed: The Sheffield factory worker who beat Roger Bannister - by 29 days

Britain's Roger Bannister hits the tape to become the first person to break the four-minute mile
Britain's Roger Bannister hits the tape to become the first person to break the four-minute mile
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One of history’s great sports stories ended on Sunday with the death of the first official four-minute miler Sir Roger Bannister, aged 88.

Grainy footage of him hurtling round the Oxford University track encouraged by the duffle-coated and suede-shoed offspring of the privileged captured a truly remarkable moment in human achievement on May 6, 1954.

Except that Sheffield paint factory worker Ken Wood had already done it a month earlier.

Or so Ken always insisted - and he had witnesses to back him up.

Ken died almost 10 years ago, aged 77, and was 23-years-old when he beat the four-minute barrier with a 3m 59.2 sec time in a Wednesday afternoon training session at Sheffield University’s sports ground on Warminster Road.

In 2004, a modest Ken said: “Mine was only a training run, but it was a definite sub-four minutes, no question. I thought it was just another time. The lads who were with me made a little bit of fuss about it, but I never really mentioned it to anybody.”

Sir Roger Bannister, the first athlete to run a sub-four minute mile, has died aged 88 in Oxford,. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Sir Roger Bannister, the first athlete to run a sub-four minute mile, has died aged 88 in Oxford,. Pic: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Former Sheffield United Harrier Ken did go on to run a sub-four minute mile in an official race, and also ran the mile for Britain at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, competing against Bannister, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway during one of the golden ages of British middle distance running.

Ken also won the prestigious Emsley Carr Mile four times from 1954-1961, an achievement never bettered.

Sheffield’s own ‘Tough of the Track’, who lived at Chancet Wood Drive, Meadowhead, was known for his mental strength, never had a coach, devised his own training routines and held down a full-time job.

He would run in Graves Park, around golf courses and in Ecclesall woods.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe during the minutes applause for Sir Roger Bannister during day four of the 2018 IAAF Indoor World Championships at The Arena Birmingham.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe during the minutes applause for Sir Roger Bannister during day four of the 2018 IAAF Indoor World Championships at The Arena Birmingham.

He also got permission from then Sheffield United manager Joe Mercer for permission to train at Bramall Lane.

Ken’s sub four-minute dash was a training exercise and couldn’t count as an official record.

Roy “Fritz” Koerner then a geography student at Sheffield University held the watch on Ken’s epic run - though he couldn’t remember Ken’s time from that day said in 2004: “Ken is not remembered as well as he should be. In those days, class distinction played a part. It was one thing for Bannister and Chris Chataway to do great things, but Ken Wood?

“I can remember hearing radio commentaries and the BBC guy was grudging to Ken - how could the likes of Ken beat the greatest?

“But he damned well did.”