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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
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

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot