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Diane Leather, a track trailblazer, dies at 85

Diane Leather

Diane Leather

Leather played lacrosse as a child, however watching the 1952 Summer Olympics sparked her interest in athletics. She joined the Birchfield Harriers club in Birmingham, where she was an analytical chemist at the University of Birmingham, and was coached by Doris Nelson Neal.

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. Nevertheless she 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 women.

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Diane Leather, who in 1954 became the first woman recorded to have run a mile in under five minutes.

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. Coincidentally, it was only 23 days since Roger Bannister had become the first man to run a sub 4-minute mile, 100km away. In 1955, Leather broke the mile record by a further 15 seconds, achieving her personal best of 4:45. This remained the world record for seven years until New Zealand’s Marise Chamberlain ran 4:41.4 in 1962.

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.

In 1960, married and competing as Diana Charles, she participated in the Olympic Games in Rome. She was eliminated in the heats of the 800 metres, in 2:14.24. See link below.

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