Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Vol. 4 No. 42 Diane Leather, the Woman Who Made History the Same Month as Roger Bannister

Diane Leather

Few could name the first woman to go under five minutes for the mile, and fewer still may recall that the event happened in the same month that Sir Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile for the first time.   Women's athletics/track and field was a sidebar to the men's version of the sport.   Because a few women collapsed after the 800 meters in the 1928 Olympics in Antwerp, the event was discontinued, and 200 meters was the longest event allowed to women until 1960.   Some thought that women might lose their capacity to reproduce if their uteruses got bounced around too much in training and racing.   The response from women in those days of course could have been , "Then why let men run the high hurdles?"

But getting back to the purpose of this post.  The answers to our interrogatories are (one) , Diane Leather was first woman to break the five minute barrier, and (two )  she did it 23 days after Sir Roger got his record.   So far as I know,  Diane is not yet titled on her side of the Atlantic. She would go on to lower the record to 4:45 which stood for another seven years.  If you look at the videos below of her running, it is easy to see that she was a grand talent who would have fared well in today's international competitions.  She also ran a 2:06 880 during her career, not to mention doing it on cinders.  Her form is superb.   And she was not being paced in her record attempt.  The only question that remains is "Is a 5 minute mile for women equivalent to a 4 minute mile for men?"   My response is "As a psychological barrier, yes,  as a physical barrier, no."  In so much as she was able to bring the record down another 15 seconds, it says that physically it was an easier record to break.  However few women had the opportunity to attempt that distance, so the mentality of officialdom was probably a greater barrier to women than the physical barrier.

If we look at the progression of the mile record,(and we note that the IAAF only started recording world records for women in the mile in 1967), women appear to have made a significantly greater improvement in the mile world best or world record than men since 1954.
The current women's record is approximately 4:12 , a 16% reduction in the overall time from 5:00.
The current men's record is 3:43.13  a 7% reduction in the overall time from 4:00.

If we were to allow that a 4:45 mile for women is closer to a 4:00 mile for men, the improvement from 4:45 to 4:12 is still an 11% improvement.

The engineers and mathematicians may want to review my work to make this comparison more accurate.  I'm open to their commentaries.  How would you determine a true equivalent of a 4:00 minute mile for women?  I just don't feel like putting up the graphs right now.

This link shows Diane winning the British XC championships for the third straight year in 1955 as well as Gordon Pirie winning his race.  Note the course conditions.


Here is a clip of an attempt by Diane that just falls short of the 5:00 minute mile


This information was derived from the following article that appeared in "The Guardian".


Several comments/observations have come in since posting this article.

(1)I am not going to try the math bit but I did see her run a record mile later on.  Cant remember the details but it would have been at White City in the 50s.  
Geoff Williams

(2)  Disclosure:   I had never heard of Diane & completely missed when the lst sub 5 mile was run by a woman.  Since the mile WR is now 4:12+ there is certainly room for a sub 4:10 since the WR in the 1500 was  3:52+ by Kazankina in 1980 until it was broken by the turtle blood sipping Chinese girl in 1993 with a 3:50+.  I have no idea what you add to a woman's 1500 for a mile time but I would figure 22 seconds could be beaten by a top notch runner to get under the 4:12+ mark and perhaps a sub 4:10

(3)  George:
I’m not a mathematician, but you might look at 4 min is the same to 5 min as 2:03 is to 2:17 and find out that the further women run the closer they get to male performances. 
Pete Brown

(4)  Kazankina's best of 3:52.47 equates to approximately 4:11. (But, was she clean?) Masterkova's mark is 4:12.56.
Reference: http://www.mtsacrelays.com/info/1500mconversiontable.pdf
Simplified, yes, but it appears to be a fairly good conversion table.  The IAAF table for women relates 4:12.57 to 3:54.69.  On the other hand, for men the 4:12.57 relates to 3:54.08.

(5)  She really looks smooth.
Richard Trace

(6)  4535 times have men broken the 4.00 mile.  236 times has 4.27 mile or better been run by women.    These are multiple times by same athletes.    Looks like maybe like a 4.26 would be closer to a 4.00 mile by men time. As far as effort would be tough to determine.  Especially with drugs involved.  Phil Scott

(7)  I'm beginning to suspect that this will become a matter of opinion rather than one of scientific or mathematical reasoning.   We try to balance out performance based on age and sex,  but even the tables for men and women don't come up with quite the same answers as seen above in Dennis' statement.  Furthermore, there is so much 
variance within the species that one could argue that there should be records based on individuals' physical
peculiarities such as height, weight, hair color, skin tone, leg length, stride length etc.   Then the comparison 
becomes meaningless unless you happen to be 5 feet 6 inches tall, have blond hair, black eyes,  wear
glasses, weigh 215 pounds, and your middle name is Eric       
.  George

Obviously that is not the case.  What is the women's record in the mile 4:12?  So half a minute is closer to it.  The reason five minutes was significant was that no one had done it.  This is because there were no women milers.  Just last week Great Oak HS in So Cal had girls at 4:484:51 and 4:51.4:41, 4:51, 4:58.  Roy
http://myweb.lmu.edu/jmureika/track/mercier/instructions.html  From Jose Sant in Repentigny , Quebec comes the 
Mercier table to compare men's and women's efforts.   Just plug in the numbers and get an equivalent.
The Mercier table credits a woment's 4:36.25 mile to a 4:00 mile for Men.   Thank you Jose.   But don't ask me how they come up with the numbers.    George

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