Mile champ Ken dies at age of 77

A SHEFFIELD athlete who may have been the first man ever to run a mile in less than four minutes has died at the age of 77.

Record books show Roger Bannister achieved the legendary feat on May 6 1954 in Oxford, becoming a household name in the process.

But Ken Wood always claimed to have beaten the barrier a month earlier during a Wednesday afternoon training session at Sheffield University's sports ground on Warminster Road.

Ken, at the time a 23-year-old worker at a paint firm, said four years ago: "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."

Ken did go on to run a sub-four minute mile in an official race, the first athlete from Sheffield to do so.

He also ran the mile for Britain at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, during what is now seen as one of the golden ages of middle distance running, competing against Bannister, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway.

Ken beat all comers to win the prestigious invitation-only Emsley Carr Mile four times at the White City stadium from 1954 to 1961, an achievement which has never been bettered.

Ken, who lived at Chancet Wood Drive, Meadowhead, also captured the British record for the two mile distance, one he held for two years.

"Ken's first sport was cycling, but he saw some runners in Graves Park and thought he would fancy having a go, taking up cross country," said his widow Brenda.

Ken joined Sheffield United Harriers and became an athletic all-rounder, running for Britain in cross country championships.

Unlike today's carefully cosseted Olympians, Ken was all on his own when it came to training and coaching.

"Ken never had a coach - he relied on his own mental strength," Brenda said.

"He was self-trained and checked all his own progress and race times - and of course he was holding down a job at the same time. He was self-motivated."

Ken also trained when and where he could - although he had little truck with fancy facilities, commenting that stadiums didn't create top athletes.

"Today athletes are sponsored and well looked after, but Ken used to run in Graves Park, around golf courses and in Ecclesall woods," said his brother Jack.

"He also asked Sheffield United manager Joe Mercer for permission to train at Bramall Lane, running round the football and cricket pitches," he added.

Ken went on to become a rep for brewery Ind Coope, but was always very proud of his running career and always kept fit.

"He was still running until 18 months ago - running too, never jogging," Brenda said.

"He was a keen walker too and loved rambling. But running was in his blood," she added.

Ken's funeral is at Abbey Lane Chapel on Friday at 1.30pm.

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