When he and Norgay came back down, they ran first into Lowe. "Well," crowed Hillary gaily, with the best extemporaneous victory line ever, "we knocked the bastard off."
Back in London, the news arrived, exclusively to The Times, late the night of June 1, just as the Coronation Day edition was being put to bed. In those days, The Times still ran only "notices" on the front page. There was otherwise only the paper's logo and, under it, LONDON, with the date and, over to the right, in the largest small type that would fit, The Times' editors added two little words: EVEREST CLIMBED.
So, with that gift from Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, did later that very day the Commonwealth crown its queen.
IV. HIP, HIP, HOORAY
On the midday train to Oxford, Bannister chanced upon Franz Stampfl. He was the coach of his teammate Chris Brasher, who, along with Chris Chataway, was going to try and keep a minute-per-quarter-mile pace for him. Despite the nasty weather, Stampfl urged him to go for it. "He made the point," Bannister recalls, "that 'if you don't take this opportunity, you may never forgive yourself.' " The thought stayed with him.
Bannister enjoyed a leisurely lunch with friends, but even when he took tea with Brasher later, he hadn't made up his mind. Only about 1,100 people were in the old wooden stands at the Iffley Road track, but Bannister's parents had been tipped off by a friend that "it could be worthwhile" for them to show up, so, unbeknownst to their son, they were among the small assemblage at the meet. It was Oxford versus Britain's Amateur Athletic Association. Down by the track, Bannister kept glancing up toward Iffley Road. There, on the far side of the street, flying above the steeple of St. John the Evangelist, was the flag of St. George, standing straight out in the brisk breeze.
Only shortly before the mile was called for 6:10 p.m. did Bannister note that the flag had begun to dip some, and so, just five minutes before the start, he decided that a man in England would never get anything done if he waited for good weather. He told Chataway and Brasher he'd go for it. Later, Bannister wrote a more beautiful description of what made him decide to try: "I felt at that moment that it was my chance to do one thing supremely well."
The six runners took off, the flag still drooping above St. John's, clouds but no rain, 54°, Bannister's seven-ounce spikes sinking into the damp cinders. Brasher took the lead and held it through the end of the third lap, when Chataway stepped up—primed, himself, to try for the 1,500-meter record. Chataway was on top at the bell in 3:00.5, but Bannister passed him on the backstretch and, lengthening his stride, moved farther and farther ahead. There was no pace but his own now, no one to push him. He must race into history on his own. He seemed on target too, until he came down the stretch, when the wind rose again, slapping him crosswise, slowing him, surely, precious hundredths—tenths?—of seconds. But Bannister kept churning, hitting the tape with his one last gasp, so that, yes, that final elusive barrier of the Heroic Age had been overcome in 3:59.4 by an Englishman in the second year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
There was, then, as "Our Athletics Correspondent" from The Times reported, "a general swoop on to the centre of the field.... Bannister was encircled and disappeared from view, but somehow the news [of the record] leaked out. There was a scene of the wildest excitement—and what miserable spectators they would have been if they had not waved their programmes, shouted, even jumped in the air." There were also three cheers for Bannister and a kiss from Mum.
V. A LARGE PART OF HIS LIFE