Sir Chris Chataway: ‘gallant to the end’

Chris Chataway, right, and Roger Bannister celebrate the latter's mile in less than four minutes. Picture: AP
Chris Chataway, right, and Roger Bannister celebrate the latter's mile in less than four minutes. Picture: AP
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TRIBUTES were paid yesterday to Sir Chris Chataway, the athlete who helped Sir Roger Bannister become the first man to break the four-minute mile barrier.

The former 5,000 metre world record holder died yesterday at St John’s Hospice in north-west London. He was 82.

Sir Chris helped make history in 1954 when he acted as a pacemaker to Sir Roger on the Iffley Road track in Oxford. He went on to enjoy a lengthy career spanning the worlds of broadcasting, politics, business and charity.

Sir Roger said yesterday he would “sorely” miss the man he had called a friend for more than five decades, describing him as “gallant to the end”.

The 84-year-old said: “Our friendship dated back over more than half a century. We laughed, ran and commiserated together.

“People will always remember him for the great runner he was, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he had an extremely distinguished career off the track.”

He added: “My family and I will miss him sorely and our thoughts go out to his family and many friends who were so fond of him.”

As well as helping Sir Roger enter the history books, 1954 saw the emergence of Sir Chris as a top-level athlete. He broke the 5,000 metres world record by pipping Russian Vladimir Kuts to the finishing line at a London meet broadcast to 12 million television viewers.

The victory made him a household name and, after winning the Commonwealth Games three miles title the same year, he was named the first BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

However, Sir Chris’s athletics career lasted only five years, during which time he was already pursuing other areas of interest. In 1955, he became Independent Television’s first newsreader.

Four years later, he entered the House of Commons as the Conservative MP for Lewisham North between 1959 and 1966, during which time he served as a parliamentary private secretary and junior education minister.

He was re-elected as MP for Chichester in 1969, and became minister for industrial development in Ted Heath’s government. However, defeat in 1974 brought an end to his political career, and Sir Chris became managing director of Orion Bank in 1974 before leaving in 1988 to work as chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority.

His son, Mark, said yesterday that his father had been suffering from cancer for the past two-and-a-half years, but had been using his exercise bike every morning up until a few weeks ago.

The 53-year-old described his father as a “very compassionate and wise man” who had the “ability to put other people’s needs first”.

Mr Chataway added of his father’s athletics career: “Of course, we all thought it was remarkable. We all saw the old footage, but I think as a child that’s not what you focus on in a parent.”

After beginning to run regularly again in his 50s, Sir Chris kept his passion for the pursuit alive even when he was approaching 80 years of age.

Mr Chataway explained: “He kept running almost until the end of his life. He ran with a couple of my brothers in the Great North Run about three years ago now. And then doing it in a very respectable time.”