In the spirit of not taking things for granted, it occurred to me that Roger Bannister doesn’t have to be the first human to have run a mile in less than four minutes. This is in no way intended to detract from what he did, especially with the Sixtieth Anniversary of the run coming in May. This is unquestionably a historic achievement and a testament to dedication to your sport, and determination to reach a goal.
That being said, I can’t help but wonder if some gifted runner (perhaps of the Raramuri or Kalenjin) went that fast for that long before Bannister. The Wikipedia entry on the Four Minute Mile references an earlier claim going back to 1770. Even if the distance and\or time measurement were off, there is reason to believe James Parrott came very close if he didn’t break it outright.
Going back to before any kind of accurate time measurement existed, I think it’s very possible that the right ‘genetic freak’ in the right ‘running culture’ could have surpassed that barrier without even knowing it. Look at how fast the Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners became dominant after they hit the global stage. That would tell me that the physical ability had already been there with those runners.
Again, I’m definitely not trying to diminish Bannister, or record keeping! Just one of those crazy thoughts that came to me.