Diane Leather Charles: First woman to run sub-five minute mile dies aged 85

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Diane Leather Charles, the first woman to run a sub-five minute mile, has died aged 85.

She was born on 7 January, 1933 in Streetly in the West Midlands and took up athletics aged 19 after being inspired by the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki.

Between 1953 and 1955, the Brit improved the women’s world best for the mile an unprecedented five times and by as much as 23 seconds, taking it from 5:08.0 to 4:45.0, a time that wasn’t bettered for 7 years.

Her family says Diane was still very active right up until mid-August, before a short period of illness.

Leather also equalled the world best for 440 yards and set world best performances for 1500m twice and was the first woman to run under 4:30.0.

These results were listed as world best performances – as opposed to world records – as the only women’s individual middle distances recognised by the IAAF were the 800m and 880 yards. Diane held the world record for the former and won silver medals over two laps at the European Championships in 1954 and 1958.

As well as this, she won the England National Cross Country Championships four years in a row during the mid-1950s but her biggest moment of fame came at the 1954 Midland Area Championships at a wet cinder track at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium.

The mile was held just 45 minutes after the 880 yards, which Diane won. Before long, she established a great lead and had nothing for company but world best pace.

There was a 160 yard gap to the second placed athlete as she finished in 4:59.6, thus breaking five minutes for the first time. Incredibly, this result came just 23 days after Roger Bannister – who passed away in March – broke four minutes in Oxford.

She competed in the 1960 Olympic Games under the name Diane Charles and finished fifth in her 800m heat. After retiring from competitive athletics at the age of 27, Diane went on to teach, perform social work and bring up four children.


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First published on: 8 September, 2018 2:47 pm