Sir Roger Bannister becomes huge favourite to light Olympic Flame
Thursday, 26 July 2012
July 26 - British running legend Sir Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in under four minutes, has become the overwhelming favourite to light the Olympic Flame at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony tomorrow night after a series of huge bets were placed on him to receive the prestigious honour.
Leading high street bookmaker William Hill announced that they have closed the betting market for who will light the cauldron at the Olympic Stadium due to the amount of money being placed on Bannister, which is a major turnaround as he has only been considered a major contender for the role in recent months.
Bannister (pictured top, on left) was available to back at 33/1 just one week ago with five-times Olympic rowing champion Sir Steve Redgrave considered the heavy favourite.
But Bannister was backed in to 6/1 in the last few days and then all the way to evens before William Hill suspended the betting.
Markets are typically suspended at the start of the relevant event, but on rare occasions, usually when an exceptional amount of money is staked on one selection, bookies sometimes take the option to close a market early to protect themselves from a major pay-out.
"Just a week ago we were 33/1 for Sir Roger," said William Hill's Rupert Adams.
"Although he was an amazing sportsman we felt that his connection was not Olympic enough.
"If he does win, an awful lot of punters will be running, perhaps not four-minute miles, down to their betting shops to pick up their winnings."
The 83-year-old remains best known for the legendary performance that saw him become the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes in Oxford on May 6, 1954.
Less well known, however, is how he helped London save face at the 1948 Olympics, the last time the capital hosted the Games, where he served as a teenage assistant to the Team GB leader.
Minutes prior to the London 1948 Opening Ceremony at Wembley Stadium, it was discovered that Britain was the only team without a flag to march behind.
Bannister was duly despatched to commandeer an army jeep, find the commandant's car with a British flag inside and break the windows to take it.
An army sergeant actually had to restrain a policeman from arresting him, but Bannister managed to deliver the flag back just in time.
Four years later, in 1952 at Helsinki, he competed at his only Olympic Games, but despite being the overwhelming gold medal favourite in the 1,500 metres, he finished in fourth and out of the medals.
That was caused by a poor training regime highlighted by the fact that Bannister did not realise there was semi-final before the final.
After disappointment at those Games, Bannister set himself the new goal of becoming the first man to run a mile in under four minutes – and he achieved the feat two years later at Iffley Road Track in Oxford when he stopped the clock in 3min 59.4sec.
He later retired to concentrate solely on his career as a neurologist but his legendary track achievement served to earn him numerous accolades in the years since.
However, lighting the Olympic Flame at London 2012 would trump them all.
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March 2012: Odds lengthen on Redgrave lighting Olympic Flame as Sir Roger Bannister's price slashed
March 2012: Exclusive - "An unknown will light London 2012 Olympic Flame, not me" predicts Sir Steve Redgrave