David Weir today made history when he became the first wheelchair athlete ever to complete a mile in under three minutes at the Vitality Westminster Mile festival of road racing in central London.
The six-times London Marathon winner smashed his own world best by six seconds as he crossed the finish line in front of Buckingham Palace in 2:57 for his fourth straight Westminster Mile title.
It was a fitting way to mark this Paralympic year at the fourth edition of an event set up as part of the legacy programme for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The six-times Paralympic champion was blessed with warm sun and dry roads as he flew around the course that skirts St James’s Park in the heart of Westminster, beating his South African rival Ernst van Dyk by a massive 12-second margin.
“I’ve always said I could do it,” Weir explained, who described his commanding victory over Van Dyk as a “perfect race” after he broke the historic barrier at the fourth time of asking.
Weir raced around the C-shaped route from The Mall to Spur Road with Van Dyk, the 10-times Boston Marathon champion, on his tail. Van Dyk challenged the Briton in the early stages but the Briton was just too quick and opened a large gap in the second half.
“I knew it was possible and training has gone really well,” said Weir. “I knew from last year that my start let me down. I knew I had to get off to a quick start and that Ernst would chase hard.
“I was more relaxed down Birdcage Walk, but I was still pushing at 22 miles an hour and that’s not bad.”
Weir claimed the fourth of his quartet of London 2012 gold medals when he won the Paralympic Games wheelchair marathon on these streets two years ago, but could only finish third at last month’s Virgin Money London Marathon.
“I was disappointed with London so that gave me a bit more to think about,” said Weir. “I wanted to prove a point that I was still up there with the best in the world.”
Weir claimed his fourth straight Westminster Mile title in style, retaining the British Athletics men’s wheelchair road mile crown he won 12 months ago in 3:03 having taken the inaugural contest in 2013 in 3:09 and the 2014 race in 3:07.
“This record has been bugging me for years,” said Weir. “I was determined to get it right this time and the team behind me have been telling me to get it right.”
Weir’s coach Jenny Archer was just as delighted as her athlete. “We’re worked so hard over the last few weeks on coming out hard at the start,” she revealed. “We just had a different attitude this year.
“After London 2012 things have been up and down but training has been really good and Dave’s had a lot of good support. We always take each race as it comes, but this was one we really wanted.”
Fittingly, Sir Roger Bannister sent his good wishes to Weir when he heard about the record. “I know that Dave’s been on the edge of of the three-minute mile for a while so I send him all my congratulations for his huge achievement," said the first man to break the four-minute mile back in 1954.
Van Dyk was also full of praise for Weir’s historic achievement.
“The mile is such a magical barrier,” he said. “It’s what people have thought about for years now, since when guys were doing it back in the day. So for a wheelchair race to knock another minute off a sub four-minute mile is something the whole world can understand and respect.
“It’s not something the public don’t understand, it’s a mile and we did it under three minutes, so it raises a lot of awareness for how good these athletes are and how hard we train.
“When I was pushing my guts out for the first three-quarters and I couldn’t get by him, I knew we were on for under three minutes.
“I’ve done a few fast miles in my life, but I’m no longer a sprinter, I’m a marathon racer. So doing a quick race such as this is quite hard for me.”
Spaniard Rafael Botello Jimenez was a distant third in 3:25 while Britain’s Nikki Emerson beat reigning champion Martyna Snopek to claim the women’s wheelchair crown in 4:10.