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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 21:08 GMT 22:08 UK
Dame Mary, the golden girl
Mary Peters
Mary Peters (left): Death threats from terrorists
Olympic pentathlete Mary Peters has been made a Dame in the birthday honours in recognition of her work for athletics and the community in Northern Ireland.

The Lancashire-born star, who moved to Belfast as a girl, is credited with briefly uniting the people of Northern Ireland during one of the most violent periods in its history.

I've been honoured in the past so this is the icing on the cake

Mary Peters

Peters claimed gold for Britain in the pentathlon during the 1972 Munich Olympics, after a titanic and nailbiting struggle with local heroine Heide Rosendahl.

The event seized the imagination of people on both sides of the sectarian divide - a chasm she has sought to bridge since retiring from athletics.

She was awarded an MBE in 1973 and a CBE in 1990, but her continued work on behalf of both sport and the tourist industry in the region has now earned her one of the highest possible honours - Dame Commander of the British Empire.

"My success in sport opened a lot of doors for me to do charity work and to work on the Northern Irish and British Sports Councils and also for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board," she said.

"Northern Ireland has taken a lot of knocks over the years and I think it's one of the nicest places in the world.
Peters receives her CBE in 1990

"Northern Irish success in the Olympics this year would be a bonus. Medals are very difficult to come by nowadays so I wouldn't anticipate any gold - but then nobody expected me to win gold either!"

Her triumph over two gripping days in Munich was a memorable sporting achievement.

Peters, then 33-years-old, set personal bests in the hurdles, shot and high jump on day one to lead the field with an impressive score of 301 points.

She could not sleep that night because she was so anxious about the second day - "every time I looked at my watch it seemed the hands had moved backwards," she said.

A poor performance in the long jump, the first event of day two, cut her lead.

Munich massacre

It came down to the final event, the 200m, which was acknowledged as Rosendahl's best. The German won, with Peters battling into second.

The complex calculations required to established the winner made for agonising minutes of anticipation, before the British star knew she had won gold and shattered the world record.

It was her third and probably final attempt at top spot on the podium, and was greeted by Rosendahl who threw her arms around Peters' neck.

The win was overshadowed the next day when 11 Israeli athletes and officials were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

Peters was herself the recipient of death threats from terrorists at home, but she ignored them and was given a civic reception in Belfast.

The athlete, who as a girl had been given two tons of sand by her father so she could practice her jumping events, quickly showed her determination to put something back into the sport.

She raised enough money to refurbish the athletics track at Queens University, which was subsequently renamed in her honour.

Peters also became an athletics administrator, acting as women's team manager at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics before going on to head the Northern Ireland delegation at the 1998 European Championships in Budapest.

It was at this event that she watched Britain's Denise Lewis strike gold in the heptathlon, the event that replaced the pentathlon for women at the Olympics.

Peters is now deputy chairman of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board and continues to provide positive publicity for the place she has already done so much to promote.

See also:

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