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60 years on British Athletics celebrates the anniversary of five minute mile

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Diane Leather

29 May 2014

Today Diane Charles (nee Leather) celebrated the 60 year anniversary of becoming the first woman to break the five minute mile.

Charles, famously recorded the feat by clocking 4:59.6 at the Alexander Sports Ground in 1954 and came just 23 days after Sir Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. 

“I remember the day very well, it was very exciting. I had been close to breaking the five minute mark a few weeks before so I knew it was possible,” the Birchfield Harrier said.  

“I’ve still got the spikes from the race and not long after my husband had them silvered, which is why they’re still in such great condition today. It’s a memento from that day and something that brings back some really fond memories.”

Fast forward to 2014, and the Streetly-born record breaker headed up the road from the former home of athletics to the Alexander Stadium where she was joined by fellow Birchfield Harrier Ellie Stevens (Trevor Marsay) and Birmingham-based Alison Leonard (Bud Baldaro), who coincidentally won the Diane Leather award for winning the Westminster Mile last weekend.

What made Charles’ run at the Midlands Women’s AAA Championships more remarkable was the fact that she only started running after seeing the Olympic Games in Helsinki. This was the start of a relationship with Birchfield Harriers, which continues to this very day.  

“After watching the 1952 Olympic Games, I thought I’d love to do that, so I joined the club and started running cross country and then on the track the following summer. It was quite a turnaround to get from there to where I was two years later.”  

Staring at the modern facilities at the Alexander Stadium, went onto explain the differences in competing back in her competitive days to now, where Britain’s finest will go head-to-head at the Sainsbury’s British Championships on 27-29 June.

“It was amateur in those days and no money involved. There were cinder tracks (crushed stone) and now they are made out of top of the range materials.”

Stevens added: “It’s astonishing to see the shoes, I’m in awe really. We wouldn’t be allowed on the track with spikes that size these days. We have such technology these days and Diane would still be very competitive if she was competing these days with her times.”

The 29 year old is hoping for a change of fortune when she lines up in the 1500m at the Sainsbury’s British Championships, but is confident that she can lower her personal best, which she recorded at the Indoor Trials in 2007.

“I have been struggling for a good few years now, so I just want to bring my times down, so I can be competitive with the girls I’m racing against.”

Charles offered some frank advice to the duo by saying: “Train hard and give it a go on the day.”

Tickets for the Sainsbury’s British Championships on 27-29 June are available by visiting britishathletics.org.uk