Opening Bids: Sole Winner

  • At about 4.5 ounces, Roger Bannister’s running shoes were among the lightest at the time.
  • Photo by Bettmann/Corbis
    5/8/1954 - Oxford, England: Mouth wide open gasping in air, with every tendon tight as a fiddle string, 24-year-old English medical student Roger Bannister is shown here breasting the tape and crashing his way into athletic history by completing the mile in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds at Oxford. He is the first man in history to run the mile and demolish the four minute barrier. Photo by Bettmann/Corbis
  • Photo by Bettmann/Corbis

In the summer of 1954, a 25-year-old University of Oxford neurology student and Olympic runner named Roger Bannister did what scientists had long thought was not humanly possible: He ran a mile in under 4 minutes. The London-born athlete crossed the finish line at Iffley Road Track in Oxford in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, breaking the world record, which had stood at 4 minutes and 1 second for nearly a decade. On September 10, the shoes that carried Bannister into history will be auctioned by Christie’s South Kensington (christies.com) as part of its Out of the Ordinary sale. The leather size 10s are expected to fetch $47,000 to $79,000, and, per Sir Roger Bannister’s request, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Autonomic Charitable Trust.

Sporting Goods
Bannister’s shoes were made by G.T. Law & Son, the leading sport shoemaker at the time. They were the go-to brand for English rugby star Prince Alexander Obolensky and for the Springboks, South Africa’s rugby team. 

Weighting Game 
At about 4.5 ounces, Bannister’s running shoes were among the lightest at the time, but they are more than an ounce heavier than modern track shoes, which often employ ceramic or plastic spikes. 

Sharper Spikes
The metal spikes are exceptionally thin, helping them grip and release Oxford’s uneven, gravel track. The day of the race, during his medical training, Bannister sharpened the spikes on a laboratory grindstone.

’Roo Shoe
Ultrathin Australian kangaroo leather was used instead of traditional calf leather, which almost doubled the price to 5 pounds (about $70 today). Modern elite running shoes cost upwards of $200. 

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