Sunday, March 7, 2010

In An Instant, History Was Made

I, Roger Bannister
By Bill Kirk

May 6, 1954. “Will this be the day?”
Is the singular question for the 3.000 present
At the Iffley Road track today—
A question for which only I will have the anwer.

Three runners to the line:
Chris Brasher, Chris Chataway and I, Roger Bannister.

It is a day like no other has been or will be again.
In the minds of men, long anticipated expectations
Were held in check by the history of a feat often tried
But never accomplished.

With tension in the air and muscles on the brink of exploding,
The gun goes off—then heartbreak
As we are called back to the line.
“How to put the lions back in the cage,” they wonder?
Might our legs recover sufficiently for another go?
We would learn soon enough they would and they did.

Then, in an instant, the world turns on four words,
“Runners take your mark!”
Another shot and the eternity of that first quarter mile
Flashes by in just 57.5 seconds.
Hearts pounding and lungs near bursting,
I hear myself yell, “Faster”
As I run impatiently from behind.

An arm's length ahead of me,
Brasher’s cooler head prevails, controlling the race.
Were he not leading with patience,
The price I would pay in three scant minutes would be dear.
The next two quarter miles each exceed a minute—
“Not by much,” some would say.
But will "not much" be "too much" at the end of the day?

Then Chataway takes the lead in the third circuit around the track.
Stride for stride three champions drive on—
Into the last revolution.
Now is when “faster” is needed.
At last it is my turn—my time.

I surge ahead down the back stretch.
“59, 59, 59 seconds,” is my singular thought.
Can it be done? Is this the day?
Rounding the last turn, with 50 yards left,
I race toward my date with destiny.

Nothing left now but raw will,
I stare at the tape stretched across my path.
It beckons from a mere 15 feet before me.
Less than three more foot strikes to leave on the track.
In a duel with the clock: What razor-thin portion
Of a single second might I gain or lose?

The snap of the tape—time frozen with the
Click, click, click of stop-watches,
And the pop, pop, pop of flashing bulbs.

Then unbearable pain and
Total collapse into waiting arms.
Gasping for breath. I strain to hear
The three long-anticipated words: “… three minutes and…”
Everything after is swallowed by the rising din.

I, Roger Bannister, have done it—
With a time of 3:59.4,
The unassailable 4-minute barrier has at last been broken—

The first sub-four mile is mine.

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