In his death on 03 March 2018, Sir Roger Bannister left an enduring legacy that is much bigger than his breathtaking run more than six decades back.
On 06 May 1954, a skinny Oxford medical student, Roger Bannister, became the first person to run a mile under four minutes, an achievement widely regarded as one of the defining sporting achievements of the twentieth century. Prior to this day, coaches and athletes believed that running a mile under four minutes is beyond human prowess.
However, what happened in the following weeks and months was even more astounding, and defines his true legacy.
Within weeks of this feat, another runner, an Australian named John Landy, broke the four-minute barrier. Within three years, seventeen runners – I repeat, seventeen – matched one of the greatest sporting feats of twentieth century. Nothing changed in those three years: same gear, same tracks, and same coaching methods. And yet…
True legacy of Roger Bannister is far beyond smashing the seemingly insurmountable four-minute barrier. It lies in smashing the psychological barrier in the minds of fellow athletes and instilling the self-belief that they too can pull under four minutes. Runners had the ability to break the record before May 1954, but probably not the self-belief.
This legacy, however, didn’t limit to his sport or to middle-distance running or even to athletics. It traveled far and wide to other sports and to many walks of life to remind people of their potential.
(Read on. I’ll end the post with another monumental legacy that is building right in front of us, but some of us don’t notice it because we’re in the middle of it.)
How self-belief affects performance?
Self-belief is the strength of your belief in your own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. If you have low self-belief, you’re more likely to get discouraged in the face of obstacles when pursuing a difficult task and, therefore, make an under-par effort or just give up.
Self-belief has nothing to do with your actual ability, though.
Let’s understand this through an example.
You’re on a hiking expedition in Africa, and you get lost. You come across a hungry hyena who is keen to make a meal of you. What would you do? You’ll fight with all your might.
But, what if you face a lion instead? Will you show the same might against the lion? Very unlikely. Because you’ll lack the self-belief to fight a lion. Although your ability remains the same in the two situations, your response, your effort will be different.
Seeing a tougher challenge – the lion – your belief in your ability went down, although your ability remained the same in both the situations. And this diminished belief inhibits performance.
Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute run has become the symbol of self-belief among people from many walks of life to take on tough challenges.
A similar legacy of self-belief is unfolding
Isn’t Roger Federer weaving a similar legacy since his return from injury in January 2017?
Tennis players were ‘supposed to’ retire in their early thirties. In the cut-throat world of modern tennis, rarely has any male player played at top level consistently in early thirties. Pete Sampras retired at 31, and, but for that big-bang U.S. open title in 2002, he was largely on a downhill in his twilight years. Becker, Lendl, Hewitt (let’s not forget he was world # 1 for 80 weeks), and other former # 1 players were all a shadow of their prime in their thirties.
He is dominating at a grand-old tennis age of 36. Astonishingly, his win ratio since his return from injury in January 2017 is at the same level as that in his heydays of 2004-2007.
His performance, it seems, is already casting a ‘Roger Bannister spell’ on other tennis players – belief that they too can play well deep into their thirties.
Marin Cilic, a finalist at Wimbledon and Australian Open and a regular top-ten player, said this after Federer became the oldest ever – men or women – world no. 1.
“It’s an amazing achievement for him.
“He put himself in the position to be number one again.
“For tennis it’s great. He is an example that you can still improve at the age that he is [emphasis mine].”
Caroline Wozniacki, former world no. 1 and 2018 Australian Open champion, too draws a similar inspiration.
“They [Federer and Nadal] come back year after year, and they play even better, though you think it’s almost impossible. You’re like, how?
“I think it just inspires everyone else to try to step it up, try to play better, too.
“I’m always thinking ‘if they can get better, then I can too‘. I have a long way to go [emphasis mine].”
Let’s see what legacy Federer eventually leaves and would it travel as far and wide as the other Roger’s.