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Diane Leather, R.I.P. First Sub 5 Minute Women's Miler

Our hats are off to an unsung heroine, Diane Leather.

Diane Leather (Charles) 1933-2018


On May 29, 1954 only 23 days after Roger Bannister first broke the 4 minute mile, another British citizen became the first woman to break the 5 minute mile. Diane Leather a 21 year old analytical chemist at the University of Birmingham broke the 5 minute barrier in the Midlands Championships. Of note, she was not paced in her race like Bannister had been by Chataway and Brasher. She did this on her mile was after she had run an 880 earlier in the afternoon. So she was doubling back when she broke the record, not a world record unfortunately, because the IAAF did not recognize world records for women beyond 800 meters in those days. So she was given a World Best. 

Diane's coach was Dorette Nelson Neal who drilled her in 5 days a week with hard intervals from 150 to 440 yards. So her achievement was one of hard work not just natural ability. Her home club was the Birchfield Harriers. 

For the next year she worked on improving her personal best and brought the standard down to 4:45. Her best time in the 800m where she twice won silver in the 1954 and 1958 European Championships was 2:06.6. By 1960 when the 800m was an event at the Rome Olympics, Diane was well past her prime and was eliminated in the heats in 2:14. She went on to become a social worker in her homeland.

Because women's track and field was not recognized by many in those days, Diane was never suitably honored or given credit for her achievement in the sport. Even now her name is scarcely recognized and her work was never credited with honors such as Sir Roger was given. Our collective hats are tipped to Diane Leather and followed by three hearty ‘huzzahs’.

The film clip below is of Diane, a few weeks after her sub 5, unsuccessfully attempting to bring down the record further but having a slightly off day at 5:02 again pretty much on her own.