Mary Peters is one of the most iconic athletes in British Athletics. At the age of 84, Dame Mary Peters is still contributing to the sport and encouraging young athletes. Stuart Weir wrote this review.
Mary Peters, My Story, A Books Review of the 1972 Olympic pentathlon gold medalist’s memoir
When she was 14 and a bit, Mary Peters was asked what she wanted for her 15th birthday. She replied that she would like 2 tons of sand so that she could have a long jump pit and a high jump landing area in the back garden! She got it and later also had a concrete shot put ring as well!
Born in England, she lived most of her life in Northern Ireland, for whom she competed in four Commonwealth Games. The highlight of her career was winning the pentathlon – before women competed in the heptathlon – in the 1972 Munich Olympics. She also came fourth in Tokyo in 1964. She won Commonwealth gold in pentathlon in 1970 and 1974 as well as taking silver in 1966. In 1970, she also won a second gold in her specialist event, the shot. Her best European Championship performance was 5th in 1962.
Mary Peters high jumping in high school, 1951, from the book Mary Peters, My Story
Her recent autobiography [Mary Peters, my story, Mary Peters, Blackstaff, 2023. ISBN978178073] is curious in that it reprints the first 12 chapters of the 1974 version of her early life and athletics career, adding 8 additional chapters on her subsequent life.
Her description of the Munich Olympics, where she won gold in 1972, and her feeling that the German officials were doing everything they could to give Heidi Rosendahl an advantage in the competition is interesting. Her account of being in the village during the terrorist attack is especially poignant.
1955, Sad that Officials No Longer Dress properly, from the book Mary Peters, My Story
In our era of federation funding and shoe contracts, it is easy to forget that Mary Peters was an amateur who had a full-time job throughout her career. The book gives a real insight into the life of the amateur elite athlete in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mary Peters with Mark Woods, BAWA, photo by BAWA
Arguably, Mary P’s achievements after her retirement have been greater than her sporting career achievements. In 1975, she set up the Mary Peters Trust to support talented young sportsmen and women, both able-bodied and disabled, from across Northern Ireland in a financial and advisory capacity. The Trust is still going.
The 1972 Munich Olympic Village, photo by Stuart Weir
Her most lasting legacy is the Mary Peters Track, which was opened in 1976 and is now home to nine track and field clubs in Belfast. After her gold medal triumph in the pentathlon event at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mary Peters suggested that to commemorate her victory, she would like to see a high-standard synthetic athletic track constructed for the benefit of the people, particularly the young, of Belfast and Northern Ireland. A fundraising campaign led to the opening of the track four years later.
At 84, Mary Peters is still alive and active.