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UK ATHLETICS STATEMENT: DIANE LEATHER

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Diane Leather in 1956, two years after breaking the 5-minute mile barrier

UK Athletics staff and colleagues are saddened to hear of the passing of Diane Leather, aged 85.

Leather, a Birchfield Harrier, became the first British woman in history to break the five-minute barrier for the women's mile, doing so just 23 days after Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile barrier, running 4:59.6 at the Midland Championships at Birmingham on May 29, 1954.

After taking up the mile in 1952, she ran a world best and English record of 5:02.6 at the end of September. This time represented an almost 6-seconds improvement over the previous world best of 5:08.0 by Britain’s Anne Oliver.

Over a three-year time period from 1953 to 1955, Leather improved the women’s world best for the mile on an unprecedented five occasions and by a total of 23 seconds, taking it from 5:08.0 to 4:45.0, a time that remained unbroken for 7 years.

Her relatively brief career saw her also equal 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. At that time, these performances were all classified as world best performances, rather than world records, as the only women’s individual middle distances recognised by the IAAF were the 800m and 880 yards and Diane held the IAAF world record for 800m.

She also achieved further success on the international stage, claiming European silver medals over 800m in 1954 and 1958 in Bern and Stockholm respectively, as well as holding the British 1500m record for a total of 11 years.

Leather also excelled over the country and won the England National Cross Country Championships for four consecutive years from 1953 to 1956 and claimed individual and team gold in the International Cross Country Championships on three occasions, 1954, 1955 and 1957. 

The thoughts of everyone at UK Athletics are with Diane's family at this time.