Diane Leather

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]

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

Early lifeEdit

Leather was born in Streetly, Staffordshire.[2] She was one of six children, and the only daughter, of Mabel (née Barringer) and James Leather, a surgeon.[2] She played lacrosse as a child, and 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 careerEdit

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 lifeEdit

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 d 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. The 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.
  10. ^ International Cross Country Championships. GBR Athletics. Retrieved on 3 April 2015.
  11. ^ Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Diane Charles Olympic Results". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 18 April 2020. 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.

External linksEdit