Someone had lost the Union Jack. Britain had no flag for its athletes to march with into the stadium. Luckily, that 19-year-old med student could run. Oh, could he run.
Roger Bannister commandeered a jeep outside Wembley Stadium, found the car with an extra flag among thousands in the parking lot and, without the keys to the vehicle, shattered a window and grabbed it.
“So I smashed the back window with a stone, while the sergeant restrained a policeman who wanted to arrest me,” he recalled in his memoir. “Using the pole as a battering ram, with the spike foremost, I charged through the crowd.”
The man who would become Sir Roger, the first man to break the four-minute barrier in the mile, reached the flag-bearer within seconds before Britain entered the stadium.
Friday night was less frantic in East London.
Bannister was thought to be the perfect choice to light the cauldron for many reasons. As the first man to run a mile under four minutes in 1954, his name resonates more than Daley Thompson, the gold medalist decathlete, and Steve Redgrave, the rowing legend who won gold at five consecutive Olympics before retiring in 2000.
Though he never medaled in the Games, his fourth-place finish in the 1,500 meters at the 1952 Helsinki Games became the fuel for him to remain in competitive running and set his sights on history.
But from the beginning, London’s organizers said this was about the inclusion of everyone, of cleaning up East London and making it livable for children, of going green and using sustainable plants and animals and fibers and metals.
And as Sir Paul kept belting out, “Hey Jude” with the help of his countrymen, countrywomen and, who knows, the queen, it became pretty clear: Nearly 70 years later, the old city was still very sustainable.
For previous Mike Wise columns, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.