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First woman to run sub-five minute mile to be honoured by former school

The first woman to run a mile in under five minutes is to be honoured by her former school in Harrogate.

Diane Leather attracted headlines around the world when she made history at the women’s athletics championships in Birmingham on May 29th 1954.

Now her former school, Harrogate Ladies’ College, plans to establish an award for promising female runners in recognition of her extraordinary feat.

Diane’s achievement came 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.

Now the Principal of the College, Mrs Sylvia Brett, hopes Diane’s achievement will inspire keen runners at the school.

She said:

"Diane was a pioneer and an amazing athlete. We’re determined her legacy for female athletes won’t be forgotten, and we hope the new award will help others achieve their dreams."

[caption id="attachment_20054" align="aligncenter" width="471"] Diane Leather, women’s athletics championships, May 29th 1954.[/caption]

The school intends to establish the award for athletes as part of its annual Speech Day.

While at school, Diane enjoyed all sports, particularly netball and lacrosse, but it was her running ability which marked her out from a young age.

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 26th 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.

Diane Leather died in 2018 at the age of 85, leaving behind four children and 13 grandchildren. Read more local stories from Your Harrogate here.

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