The chief timekeeper was Harold Abrahams, the 100-meter champion at the 1924 Paris Olympics whose story inspired the film "Chariots of Fire." He handed a piece of paper to Norris McWhirter, who announced the time: "3... "
"That was when the crowd exploded and we didn't hear any more," Bannister said. "It didn't matter what the rest was."
The record didn't stand for long. Six weeks later, Landy ran 3:57.9 in Turku, Finland. (The current record stands at 3:43.13, held by Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj since 1999.)
Bannister settled the score with Landy in August 1954 at the Empire Games, now called the Commonwealth Games, in Vancouver in what was dubbed the "Mile of the Century" or the "Miracle Mile." When the Australian glanced over his left shoulder on the final bend to see where Bannister was, the Englishman raced past him on the right and won by about four yards in 3:58.8. Landy clocked 3:59, the first time two men ran under 4 minutes in the same race.
Bannister capped his amazing year by winning the 1,500 meters at the European championships in Bern, Switzerland, in 3:43.8, his third major achievement in the span of a few months.
"Each one proved something different," he said. "Each one was necessary."
With that, Bannister retired from competition and pursued a full-time career in neurology. He is currently editing the ninth edition of a textbook on nervous-system disease, and his most treasured trophy is the lifetime achievement award he received in 2005 from the American Academy of Neurology.
"That represents a lot more work than the 4-minute mile," he said.
Ever since his right ankle was shattered in a car accident in 1975, he has walked with a limp and has been unable to run. "Over the years I've been able to walk or sometimes jog a little but nothing that would really be satisfying to me," he said. "It has been frustrating."
Bannister also served as chairman of the British Sports Council, where he initiated the first tests for steroids.
Turning to the state of sports today, and the doping scandals that have tarnished track and field, he remains sanguine about the fight against drug cheats.
"I think there will be further efforts and I have hopes," Bannister said. "The war on drugs, I believe, is possibly turning now, in that the sophistication of pharmacologists who are trying to invent new drugs are being countered now by the pharmacologists who are trying to win the battle against drugs."
The power of the Olympic ideals still resonates for him.
"There is something noble about athletics sports events," he said. "They give an opportunity to the youth of the world to find out about one another. Any competitor in athletics or in other Olympic sports goes back to his country as an Olympian. I believe that is a force for good."
As for his own involvement, Bannister said he will be present when the torch relay passes through Oxford, and he will attend the men's 1,500-meter final at the Olympic Stadium on Aug. 7.
Might he also be there on July 27 for the lighting of the Olympic cauldron? Five-time rowing gold medalist Steve Redgrave is the British bookmakers' favorite, but wouldn't Bannister make an ideal candidate?
Among those making that call will be Sebastian Coe, himself a former world-record holder in the mile and a two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500 meters. He heads the organizing committee for the London Olympics.
"There will be no shortage of candidates given the Olympic history in the U.K.," Coe said. "I'm sure Roger's name will be in the mix, but we have not even remotely begun to consider the decision of who will light the cauldron."
Bannister himself says it's not for him to say. He remembers back to the 1948 Games, when a little-known runner called John Mark was the final torch bearer.
"He wore a white singlet, white shorts, and he was representing the youth of the world," said Bannister, who turns 83 on March 23. "He wasn't running because of his name. I think that's very sound."