Full Name: Diane Susan Leather. (Later Mrs Charles)
Date of Birth: 7 January 1933
Born: Streetly, Staffordshire.
Club: Birchfield Harriers.
Coach: Dorette Nelson Neal.
Twenty-three days after Sir Roger Bannister monumentally became the first man to run under four minutes for the Mile on May 6, 1954, another landmark achievement took place by a British athlete. Staffordshire’s Diane Leather became the first woman to smash the five-minute minute barrier, with 4:59.6 in the Midland Championships at Birmingham, but the time was never ratified. It was an example of what Leather had to endure during her fabulous career, because the 800m and 880y were the only women’s middle distances recognised for world record purposes. Women did not run such distances at international level for another 15 years, but she had made her mark, whatever history said, or did not say.
Five Of The Best
Leather won five WAAA titles between 1954 and 1957 and she won the national cross-country title between 1953 and 1956, her first triumph not long after she had joined Birchfield Harriers to gain fitness because she was a hockey player. Her talent for running shone through, and within two years, she had run five world bests for the Mile. In 1953, only a year after she had started running properly, she was timed at 5:02.6, to 4:45.0 at the White City Stadium in 1955, via 5:00.2 and 4:59.6 in 1954 and 4:50.8 in 1955. During that period, she was ratified as a world record-holder on three occasions - but not at the distance where she excelled.
White City Glory
Leather’s three world records all came at White City, in a nine month period where she was arguably Britain’s finest woman runner. On August 3, 1953, running the last leg of a British relay team of Norah Smalley and Christine Slemon, Leather anchored them to 6:49.0 in a 3 x 880y in a match against France. It was on June 19 the following year, though, where she triumphed individually with a superb run to break the 880y mark, taking 2.6 off of the best time to win in 2:09.0. A month later, on July 17, she teamed up with Anne Oliver and Smalley to take the 3 x 880y best to 6:46.0.
Leather narrowly missed out on gold medals at her two European Championship appearances, running the 800m in Berne in 1954 and Stockholm in 1958. In the first of those, she clocked 2:09.8 as Nina Otkalenko, of the Soviet Union, won in 2:08.8, before the victory margin was even closer four years later. She was again beaten by a Russian, this time Yelizaveta Yermolayeva, who triumphed in 2:06.3, with Leather at 2:06.6, a personal best, Leather ran at the Olympic Games in Rome in 1960, but she eliminated in the first round, finishing fifth in her heat. Her glory years had gone, and had records been different, she would have had more ‘officially’ than many others in British athletics history.She was trained as a micro-analyst at chemistry and later became a social worker in London and Cornwall.
1954: 2nd 800m Europeans
1958: 2nd 800m Europeans
1960: ht 800m Olympics
UK Internationals: 16 (1954-60)
Won WAAA 880y 1954-5, 1957; 1M 1956-7; National CC 1953-6.
400m 56.3 (1955), 440y 56.6 (1954), 800m 2:06.6 (1958), 1500m 4:22.2 (1955), 1M 4:45.0 (1955).