Chris Chataway, a British runner who helped Roger Bannister achieve the first sub-four-minute mile, then broke world records himself before becoming a member of Parliament and a cabinet minister, died on Sunday in London. He was 82.
He had been fighting cancer for two years, his son Mark told The Associated Press.
Chataway was best known for helping Bannister, his fellow Oxford graduate and good friend, break the supposedly unbreakable barrier in the mile. For months, Bannister, Chataway and Chris Brasher trained together to prepare for the attempt.
It came on May 6, 1954, at the Iffley Road track in Oxford, an hour outside London. According to plan, Brasher, a steeplechaser, led for the first two of the four laps. Chataway, primarily a 5,000-meter runner, led for the third lap and a little beyond. With 300 yards to go, Bannister raced past and finished in 3 minutes 59.4 seconds, an achievement that made the front pages of newspapers around the world.
The three ran a victory lap together, and Bannister subsequently said many times, “We had done it, the three of us.”
While Bannister’s record was monumental, it was also fragile. In June that year, John Landy of Australia lowered it to 3:58.0 in Turku, Finland. He gave much credit to the runner who had pressed him for most of the race, Chris Chataway.
That summer, Chataway set a world record of 13:51.6 for the 5,000 meters. Over 10 days a year later, he set world records of 13:27.2 and 13:23.2 for three miles. He also ran a mile in 3:59.8.
Chataway was not as successful in the Olympics. In 1952 in Helsinki, Finland, he was leading on the last lap of the 5,000 meters, fell back to second, tripped on a curb alongside the track and fell and finished fifth. In 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, he finished 11th. After that, he retired as a runner.
Christopher John Chataway was born on Jan. 31, 1931. He became the first news anchor on the air for ITN, Britain’s first commercial television network, and soon moved to the BBC as an executive. In 1958 he was one of four Britons who inspired the creation of the World Refugee Year.
As a Conservative politician, he served from 1959 to 1974 as a governmental minister, a member of Parliament or a London local administrator. He was later a bank executive and chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. In 1995 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for his service to the field of aviation.
Besides his son Mark, Chataway’s survivors include his wife, Carola; a daughter, Joanna; three other sons, Matthew, Adam and Ben; and a stepson, Charles Walker.
For years Chataway was unhappy with the path the Olympics had taken, saying it strayed from the Olympic ideals. “Are the Olympic Games a force for good or ill in international relations?” he wrote in The New York Times Magazine in 1959. “The answer is probably that they are not much of a force at all. They are worthwhile for what they are: the best sports meetings in the world.”
“In my experience,” he added, “the average athlete does not run, jump or throw for the greater glory of his country. He does it to satisfy himself, to meet his own competitive urges, to prove something to nobody but himself. My motive force was purely personal, never patriotic.”
Chataway started running again in his late 50s. At 64, he ran a 5:48 mile on the Iffley Road track, his first race there since Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile. John Hartley, Chataway’s television colleague, said Chataway had told him that as he stood on the starting line this time, he calculated that in the 41 years between those two miles, he had absorbed 400 pounds of tobacco and 7,000-plus liters of wine.
Chataway, Bannister and Brasher remained close until Brasher died in 2003. In 2004, at age 73, Chataway ran a 10-kilometer race in 49:08. The race was the Chris Brasher Memorial. The starter was Bannister.