First woman under a five-minute mile, Diane Leather dies at 85

Diane Leather, who has died aged 85, was the first woman to run a mile in under five minutes. Her achievement came in 1954, just 23 days after Roger Bannister’s sub-four-minute mile, but with only a fraction of the acclaim, because of the low regard in which athletics held women’s distance running at the time.

Leather’s great feat took place on 29 May 1954, at the women’s athletics championships in Birmingham. She had already come close to beating the five-minute mark on a number of occasions, and the quest to be first was hotly contested. In the previous year, Anne Oliver of Britain had run a record time of 5min 8sec, later bettered by Edith Treybal of Romania with 5min 3sec. On 26 May 1954, at the Alexander Sports Ground in Birmingham, Leather beat Treybal’s best with 5min 0.2sec. Three days later she tried again and this time she made history.

Earlier in the afternoon she had competed in the 800m, but it was her mile race that really attracted the attention. Unlike Bannister’s historical marker, Leather’s was a genuine race, without pacemakers, and she led from start to finish. After a final surge in the last 100m she crossed the line in 4min 59.6sec. On being told her time, she said: “Oh good, at last!” GUARDIAN

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