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?
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

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas