Olympic moments No 1: MARY PETERS (1972 Penathlon)

Mary Peters: 'Bombs were often going off as I trained in Belfast'

In the first of our new series celebrating Britain's top 10 Olympic moments, Mary Peters recalls her dramatic 1972 pentathlon gold

Working and training in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s meant training for the Olympics was far different for me than for many other athletes.

When I was preparing for the 1972 Games in Munich, I was living at the north end of Belfast and I had to travel, with my shot put and starting blocks in hand, on a bus all the way to the other side of the city. There would often be bombs going off but I didn't know any other life; I just got on with it.

As the Munich Games got closer, however, I was fortunate enough to be able to leave Northern Ireland and, supported by the Churchill Fellowship, train for six weeks in America. It took me away from the Troubles and to a completely new environment and climate.

My pentathlon finals were played out over two days at the '72 Games. I was competing against the West German athlete Heide Rosendahl. She was not only the favourite, but she was also appearing in her home city. So I knew I had to do something special and I really think my time in the sport – I was the most experienced athlete in my competition at 33 – paid off for me. The competition was split in two halves. I managed to achieve personal bests in the first three events – the 100m hurdles, the high jump and shot put. But I knew Heide's strongest events were the final two: the 200m and the long jump.

Despite the pressure of the events, it was the waiting around that was the worst thing for me. The break in the afternoon was awful, all I could think to do was to go back to the Olympic Village. It was only between noon and 6pm but it felt like I was there a year.

I had a cushion of something like 100 points going into the penultimate event and I ended up with a fairly average long jump. Heide then leapt 6.83m – one centimetre short of her world record. I knew then that the only way I could get Gold was to run a personal best in the sprint.

We flew out of the blocks and Heide finished 10 metres ahead of me. But the pentathlon is not about positions, it's about points. And we had to wait anxiously while the computer churned out the results.

When I realised I'd won gold, there was a wonderful feeling. She had finished in 22.96sec. I was 1.12sec further back, it was a new personal best and it was enough. I had the gold. I finished with 4,801 points – a new world record. Because of my age, I knew it was my last Olympics but what made it really special wasn't the win, but the news that my father had come over from Australia to watch. I hadn't seen him for five years and I saw him tell the BBC that he'd been watching me; I was so pleased to see him. I could see he was proud.

I left the Games with four personal bests out of five finals events and I believe that my experience had helped me build up the confidence I needed.

My life changed dramatically after Munich. Like almost all the athletes at the time, I was an amateur so I was also working as a home economics teacher. But after bringing home the gold I had the chance to help so many people in so many ways. I set up the Mary Peters Trust and we still celebrate my win at home in Northern Ireland. We're holding a party to commemorate the anniversary this year.

The Mary Peters Trust offers financial aid to young people trying to succeed in sport. www.marypeterstrust.org

Golden girl: Mary Peters factfile

Born 6 July 1939 Halewood, Lancashire but moved to Ballymena aged 11. She now lives in Lisburn just outside Belfast

Olympic record In the 1972 Games she won gold in the pentathlon, having finished 4th in 1964 in Tokyo and 9th in 1968 in Mexico. She represented Northern Ireland at every Commonwealth Games between 1958 and 1974. In those Games she won two golds in pentathlon, plus a gold and silver in the shot put.

Honours She was made a CBE in 1990, having been appointed MBE in 1972. In 2000 she was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Fascinating fact Northern Ireland's premier athletics track, outside Belfast, is the Mary Peters Track.

This series is being run in conjunction with Richard House Children's Hospice which is based in the Olympic borough of Newham. It caters for children with life-limiting, life-threatening and complex healthcare conditions. To find out more and to vote for your favourite British Olympic moment, visit www.facebook.com/richardhousech

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
music
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"