Diane Leather Charles

Birthday: 01/07/33 Mile PR: 4:45.00 - 1955 (former world best)
Metric Mile (1500m) PR: 4:22.2 – 1955
High School: Harrogate Ladies’ College '51
Hometown: Streetly, Staffordshire, England
College: University of Birmingham

On May 29, 1954 during the Midland Championships in Birmingham, England, Diane Leather became the first woman to break the 5 minute Mile barrier with a time of 4:59.6, finishing well before any of her competitors. At the time, she was a 21-year-old analytical chemist at the University of Birmingham. Because the IAAF, now World Athletics, did not keep records above 800 meters for women at that time, she was only acknowledged with a world’s best time; not a world record. She also had competed in the 800 meters earlier that afternoon.

Over the next year, she dropped her Mile "best" to 4:45.0 – a time that stood for seven years!

Leather had only been training for two years when she went sub-5. During her career she had won five WAAA titles between 1954 & 1957 and she also won 4 consecutive national cross country titles (1953-56) as well as three International Cross Country Championships crowns, 1954-55 and 1957. In 1954 & 1958, Diane earned silver medals at the European Championships in the 800 meters.

She was an Olympian in Rome 1960, competing in the 800 meters as Mrs. Diane Charles.

Leather, who was trained as a micro-analyst at chemistry, later became a social worker in London and Cornwall. The legend & pioneer passed away on September 5, 2018.

FUN FACT: Diane was a field hockey player before she became a dedicated runner.

FUN FACT II: She was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame in October 2013.


Leather ‘heralded at last’ with Heritage Plaque in Birmingham

May 21, 2022

Pioneer, Olympian honored where she recorded the first sub-5 minute Mile by a woman

Chris Turner for World Athletics

The World Athletics Heritage Plaque honoring Diane Leather Charles, who in 1954 became the first woman to run below 5 minutes for the Mile, was presented Saturday at a ceremony...

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Harrogate school to honor Diane Leather Charles

November 24, 2021

For running pioneer's legacy, establishment of an award for promising female runners at the school

By Suzannah Rogerson, The Stray Ferret

A school in Harrogate is to honor a former pupil who became the first woman to run a Mile in under 5 minutes.

Diane Leather, who attended Harrogate...

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Bannister, Charles among the honorees at World Athletics Heritage Mile Night celebration

November 21, 2019

Evening in Monaco recognized Mile history, record setting legends and iconic events

From World Athletics

Roger Bannister and Diane Leather Charles, who respectively became the first man to run the Mile in under 4 minutes and the first woman to break the 5 minute barrier for the iconic...

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Diane Leather, first woman sub-5 minutes for the Mile, passes away

September 08, 2018

Legend, 1960 Olympian & record setter a pioneer of women’s running

By Peter Thompson

The world of Athletics is deeply saddened by the news that Diane Leather Charles, the first woman to run a Mile in under 5 minutes and a true running pioneer, passed peacefully on Wednesday, September 5. As...

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Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Diane Leather Breaking the 5 Minute Mile Barrier

May 29, 2014

By Peter Thompson

This article has been published in its entirety with the author's permission. It was initially published in the 'BMC News', the Club magazine of the British Milers' Club, in Spring 2014.

Many of you reading this blog are aware of the the 60th anniversary of breaking the 4...

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Sixty years ago Diane Leather smashed world record but not sex barrier

May 27, 2014

Leather’s run was not recognized as a world record, only a world’s best, because the IAAF did not keep records above 800m for women. And that is a story in itself.

By Sean Ingle, The Guardian

Sixty years ago this May, on a crushed cinder track in the Midlands, an athlete ran into history by...

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Diane Leather’s Fantastic Sub-Five

May 08, 2014

The barrier breaker looks back on her historic sub-five Mile of 60 years ago

May 6, 1954, might be a date forever etched in history, but just 23 days after Roger Bannister’s barrier-breaking sub-four-minute Mile, a woman made a similar breakthrough.

However, whereas Bannister’s achievement is...

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