SIR Roger Bannister, who has died aged 88, was one of the most celebrated sportsmen in British history but considered his greatest achievement to be his contribution to neurology.

In breaking the four-minute mile barrier in May 1954, Sir Roger cemented his place in sporting history.

But the modest academic was more proud of his career in medicine and work as a world-respected neurologist.

Sir Roger’s family said he ‘immersed himself’ in many aspects of Oxford life and will be remembered as a man who ‘banked his treasure in the hearts of his friends.’

Shortly before 6pm on May 6, 1954, at Iffley Road running track, the flag of St George lay still atop of the Church of St John the Evangelist and Roger Bannister knew he was standing on the cusp of history.

He had spent much of the previous 24 hours convinced he wouldn’t be able to break the greatest barrier in athletics –the four-minute mile.

He had turned his ankle on a polished floor at St Mary’s hospital, where he was a medical student, and spent his final day of relative normality limping.

The morning of the race he woke up at his parents’ home in Harrow after a restless night's sleep and a glance out of the window told him the wind was too strong to even attempt to break the four-minute mark at the meet between Oxford University and the Amateur Athletics Association.

After a bowl of porridge for breakfast he went to work at the hospital then caught the midday train from London Paddington to Oxford.

As the train rolled through Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and then into Oxfordshire, Bannister told his Austrian coach Franz Stampfl the wind was too high, and he would go for the record in nine days’ time instead.

“Your mind can overcome any adversity, came the reply.

When he arrived at Iffley Road, putting on his spikes seemed to strengthen his resolve, as did a late lunch of ham salad and stewed prunes at a friends’ house – that of Charles Wenden fellow athlete and later bursar at All Souls College.

But he continued to agonise with his pacemakers Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway, who were also just over an hour away from securing their place in sporting folklore.

“Let’s call it off now” said Bannister, “Let’s wait until five” said Chataway.

A postponement, he considered, may have handed his place among the sporting immortals to his Australian rival John Landy, who indeed achieved the feat a month later.

At 5.30pm, half an hour before the race and during the warm up Bannister was shaking his head and mouthing 'no' at the pair as a sharp shower chose to descend over the track, which was now lined with about 3,000 spectators.

Then, five minutes to the gun, the flag of St George, which had been flying horizontal, lay still and rested on the church tower.

He returned to the start line after one final warm up run and finally turned to his allies and said 'yes'.

Just under four minutes later he broke the tape and with it, what many considered to be, an impossible sporting barrier.

The Oxford Times’ Syd Cox reported: “Everyone went mad with excitement and many chanted almost deliriously 'he’s done it, he’s done it'.”

The intervening three minutes and 59.4 seconds are best described by Bannister himself.

In his 1955 autobiography, First Four Minutes, he recalled the most memorable minutes of his life.

He wrote: “The arms of the world were waiting to receive me if only I reached the tape without slackening my speed.

“If I faltered, there would be no arms to hold me and the world would be a cold, forbidding place, because I had been so close.”

He described the sensation of crossing the finishing line.

“I felt like an exploded flashlight with no will to live. I knew that I had done it even before I even heard the time.”

In December that year he announced his retirement from international athletics at a dinner hosted by the Sports Writers Association in London.

Despite his somewhat early retirement, his legacy would be felt for many years to come, inspiring many students.

The world’s finest athletes of generations to come, Seb Coe, Steve Cram and current mile record holder Hicham El Guerrouj would all attend anniversaries of Bannister’s run and spoke of their admiration.

His athletics memorabilia, including trophies, certificates, stopwatches, book and photographs, is on permanent loan to Pembroke College, where it is on display.

He wanted them there, as opposed to at home in the hope it would ‘provide inspiration for students in years to come.’

While he will be most widely remembered for that remarkable achievement in May 1954, Sir Roger considered his greatest achievement to be, along with his family and 14 grandchildren, his contribution to neurology.

Roger Gilbert Bannister was born on March 23, 1929, in Harrow, Middlesex to parents Ralph, a clerk at the Board of Trade, and Alice Bannister.

In his early years he was educated first at Vaughan Road Primary School in Harrow, and then at City of Bath Boys’ School before going to University College School in London.

Academically bright, he sat his university entrance exams aged 16 and won a scholarship to study medicine at Exeter College, Oxford, the following year in 1946.

After a degree in physiology he moved to St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London – now part of Imperial College – for his clinical studies.

His running, which he had started at Oxford, became restricted due to his work but he qualified for the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki as favourite for the 1,500m.

He came fourth despite breaking the Olympic record and said the staging of the heats, semi-final and final on consecutive days made it ‘impossible’ for someone on his training schedule.

It was after this disappointment he set himself a new goal – to run the mile in under four minutes.

In December 1954, just months after his historic run, he retired from international athletics for a career in medicine.

The following year he married Moyra Elver Jacobsson, an aspiring portrait painter, who he met a fortnight before his defining run.

The couple had four children; Erin, Clive, Thurstan and Charlotte.

After completing his medical training he did his National Service with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Aden, Yemen, investigating the deaths of young soldiers there.

In 1963 he become a consultant neurologist at St Mary’s and London’s National Hospital, where he would remain for the next 25 years.

He became the director of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases in London and editor of Autonomic Failure, a textbook on clinical disorders of the autonomic nervous system.

He founded the pioneering Autonomic Investigation Unit and was awarded the American Academy of Neurology’s first lifetime achievement award in 2005, as well as editing a number of textbooks.

He said his athletic background meant others in his field did not always take him seriously at first.

“For 10 years after I qualified as a doctor, people thought it inconceivable that someone who was an athlete could have serious intentions of becoming a doctor, scholar, research worker etc.

“I simply had to be extremely dedicated and single-minded in relation to my medical career – more than others – until the point at which I had left this rather transient fame.”

These decades of neurological training, clinical work and research made him an expert on Parkinson’s many years before he was himself diagnosed in 2011.

Speaking to The Oxford Times in 2014, Sir Roger said he recognised there was ‘an irony’ in him developing the very disease he had so extensively studied.

In 1985 he became a master at Pembroke College, a job which he loved during his eight years there.

After his retirement in 1993 the couple moved back to Bannister’s spiritual home of Oxford.

He remained interested in sport and athletics even after his early retirement.

In June 1971, he became the first chairman of the newly-formed British Sports Council and in his three years at the helm developed the first test for anabolic steroids.

Sir Roger was knighted in 1975 and made a Companion of Honour in the 2017 New Year’s Honours.

In the build up to the London Olympics in 2012, he carried the Olympic torch around the same track where he broke the record – except it was now named after him.

His family said he immersed himself for 20 years in many aspects of Oxford life post-retirement including arts, history and religion.

He attended the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, where his daughter Charlotte is an associate priest, and enjoyed the sermons and took communion.

He died on March 3 after suffering from Parkinson’s disease and is survived by his wife Moyra, his four children, and 14 grandchildren.