Diane Leather

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Diane Leather
Personal information
Full nameDiane Leather Charles
Born7 January 1933 (1933-01-07)
Streetly, Staffordshire, England
Died5 September 2018 (2018-09-06) (aged 85)
Truro, Cornwall, England

Diane Leather Charles (7 January 1933 – 5 September 2018) was an English athlete who was the first woman to run a sub-5-minute mile.[1]

Early life[edit]

Leather was born in Streetly, Staffordshire. She was one of six children, and the only daughter, of Mabel (nee Barringer) and James Leather, a surgeon.[2] She played lacrosse as a child, however watching the 1952 Summer Olympics sparked her interest in athletics.[3] While studying chemistry at the Birmingham College of Technology (now Aston University), she joined the Birchfield Harriers athletics club in Birmingham and was coached by Doris Nelson Neal.[4] She later worked as an analytical chemist at the University of Birmingham.[5]

Athletic career[edit]

Neal saw that Leather had the potential to perform well in longer races, however at the time the longest recognised event in women's athletics was the 200 metre race. This limit had been adopted after six women collapsed at the finish line in an 800-metre race at the 1928 Olympics.[6][5] Nevertheless Neal coached Leather for racing the mile and the following year, she broke the world best time, running a mile in 5:02.6. Her achievement was labelled "world best" rather than "world record" by the IAAF as the distance was not officially recognised for a further 15 years.

On 29 May 1954, Leather broke the 5-minute barrier with a time of 4 minutes and 59.6 seconds during the Midlands Women's AAA Championships at Birmingham's Alexander Sports Ground.[7][8] Coincidentally, it was only 23 days since Roger Bannister had become the first man to run a sub 4-minute mile, 100 km away. In 1955, Leather broke the mile record by a further 15 seconds, achieving her personal best of 4:45.[9] This remained the world record for seven years until New Zealand's Marise Chamberlain ran 4:41.4 in 1962.[3]

Leather won two European Championship silver medals at 800 metres: at the 1954 event in Bern, she was second behind the Soviet Union's Nina Otkalenko in 2:09.8, while at the 1958 event in Stockholm, she was second to another Soviet, Yelizaveta Yermolayeva, running 2:06.6. She was also a two-time winner of the women's race at the International Cross Country Championships in 1954 and 1955, and won the national cross country women's title four times.[3][10]

She married Peter Charles, an industrial engineer turned financial consultant, in 1959, and competed in her final competition, the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, as Diana Charles.[11][4] She was eliminated in the heats of the 800 metres, in 2:14.24. She held the British record for 1500m for 11 years and held claim to the world mark in the mile for 8 years in total.

Personal life[edit]

Charles retired from athletics at the age of 27, and lived in Cornwall for the remainder of her life.[3] She worked for child protection agencies and was a volunteer for Cruse Bereavement Care and Samaritans.[2] She was married for more than 55 years—her husband died in 2017[4]—and had four children and 13 grandchildren.[12] She died on 5 September 2018,[2] aged 85,[1][12] in Truro, Cornwall. She had recently suffered a stroke.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Mile legend Diane Leather dies - Athletics Weekly". Athletics Weekly. 7 September 2018. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Diane Leather obituary The Guardian
  3. ^ a b c d "A pioneer of women's running and the first female to run a sub-five minute mile,I Diane Leather, has died - Runner's World". www.runnersworld.co.uk. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Diane Leather, first woman to run a mile in under five minutes, dies at 85 Washington Post
  5. ^ a b Ingle, Sean (25 May 2014). "Sixty years ago Diane Leather smashed world record but not sex barrier | Sean Ingle". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  6. ^ Padnani, Amisha (12 September 2018). "Diane Leather, 85, First Woman to Run Mile in Under 5 Minutes, Dies". Obituaries. New York Times. Retrieved 8 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Athletics photographic encyclopedia, athlete, olympic games, world championship, european championship & hero images by". Sporting-heroes.net. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  8. ^ "50 Years Ago Roger Bannister Became a Sporting Legend with his Four Minute Mile : Why is his Female Equivalent Just Seen as an Also Ran ?". The Independent. London. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
  9. ^ Sears, Edward Seldon (2001). "The Modern Superstars (1950-2000)". Running Through the Ages. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. p. 283. ISBN 9780786409716. Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  10. ^ International Cross Country Championships. GBR Athletics. Retrieved on 3 April 2015.
  11. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill. "Diane Charles Olympic Results". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved 16 October 2017.
  12. ^ a b Robinson, Roger (7 September 2018). "Diane Leather Charles, First Woman to Break 5-Minute Mile, Dies at 85". Runner's World. Retrieved 9 September 2018.

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