Of all the athletics feats in history, the one accomplished by Roger Bannister on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University`™s Iffley Road Track, is considered the greatest. Bannister`™s keen rivalry with Australian John Landy, another mile runner, also the most romantic. Bannister ran the mile for the first time in human history under four minutes, a barrier many at the time thought was the absolute limit of human capability. Bannister had an able competitor in another young man, John Landy in chasing this record thought to be unbreakable. When everybody had come to believe they were fighting for a lost cause, it happened at Oxford. Aided by two pace setters, Bannister crossed the finish line in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, just one sixth of a second short of four minutes. It was a moment for the world to celebrate. A barrier that none believed any human could cross was breached. If the event itself triggered euphoria, what followed was even more amazing. Nearly halfway around the world, just six weeks after Bannister did it, John Landy also accomplished the feat, completing the distance in 3 minutes 57.9 seconds, chipping off 1.5 seconds more from the record set by Bannister.
What made Landy suddenly able to do it after hearing of Bannister`™s achievement is the interesting question. Unlike Bannister, he did not need any pace setters to achieve the feat. In today`™s extremely competitive environment, using a pace setter would have put a cloud on records thus broken. Pace setters are fellow runners who are not in the competition for the top spot but who merely run ahead of the man meant to break the record for some time to make him chase them and then drop out. Bannister`™s record, although great, was still in the strict sense of the world, a team effort of three runners in which he took the lead role. All the same, nobody can deny the greatness of his feat. Moreover, Bannister beat Landy in a meet in Vancouver in August 1954 in which both ran sub-four-minute miles. The moot point is, the breach created by Bannister and later by Landy, ultimately resulted in a dam burst with runners after runners, from Steve Ovett to Sebastian Coe to Steve Cram to Noureddine Morceli to a whole stable of the finest mile runners, either emulating the record or else bettering it. Today the mile record stands at an incredible 3 minutes 43.13 seconds set in Rome in 1999 by Moroccan Hicham El Guerrouj. American Steve Scott has also created a record of his own, having run the mile under four minutes 136 times in his career. They too have a lot to thank Bannister for opening up the road ahead of them. The Bannister story has subsequently been repeated in many other disciplines where human limit had seemed to have been reached. To name just two, the incredible long jump record by Bob Beamon, the sub 10 second 100 meters sprint by Jim Hines, both set at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, have all been relegated to history.
The obvious inference is, many of the hurdles and barriers before human goals, although may appear to be physical and insurmountable, often turn out to be more psychological. Just the knowledge and conviction that a goal is achievable can transform human endurance, approach and indeed capability. Which is perhaps why pioneers have a great role in charting the course for any society. The issue comes to mind in the event of some candidates from the state making it through the UPSC conducted recruitment test for the top Central government services, including the IAS and the IPS. For a middle class society like Manipur, the middle class dream of getting into the government services remains predominant and no dream has been as big as getting into the IAS. Although there have been some major consolations that some in the reserved categories have been entering these services, amongst the state`™s general category candidates, there still seems to be a mind block preventing them from going the extra distance and achieve the goal. Few now and then have made it, but they have been exceptions rather than rule. Our prayer and hope is, a breach has been created in the psychological barrier that had prevented candidates, many of them brilliant, from making it into these services. And just as Bannister and Landy did, we do hope the breach results in a dam burst, so that the place can actually begin dreaming beyond this middle class dream and reach for the sky without a sense of `sour grapes`.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam