Mary Peters - Athletics
The trouble and turmoit around her spurred on Mary Peters to the greatest performance of her career. She came from Northern Ireland, where the civil unrest known as “The Troubles”, had blighted the country for three years.
Peters defiantly set off for the Olympic Games determined to bring some cheer: “The silver medal is no good to me,” she said. “It has to be gold or nothing; a gold medal for Belfast, because something good has to happen in our city.”
These weren't the boasts of a no-hoper. Peters had come fourth in the Pentathlon in the 1964 Olympic Games and then ninth in 1968. But now, at 33 years old, she was aware that her years of competing at the very top level were beginning to come to an end.
Inspiration came to her. Despite being pitched against the home favourite, the long jump specialist Heidimarie Rosendahl, Peters set personal bests on the first day of competition. In the 100m hurdles and the high jmp, she performed better than she had ever done before. What's more, she had charmed the German crowd, who cheered her exploits in the high jump despite the presence of Rosendahl.
She led comfortably at the end of the first day, with Rosendahl down in fifth place, but the German nearly broke the world record in the long jump to narrow the gap with just the 200m remaining.
Rosendahl was the quickest in the field, and set a personal best of under 23 seconds. As she crossed the line, the total score she'd achieved actually set a new world record, but just over a second later Peters crossed the line for herself. If she'd been just a tenth of a second slower, she would have missed out on gold – instead she took both Olympic victory, and a new world record of her own. Rosendahl held the record for 1.12secs – surely the briefest tenure of any world record holder.
Peters returned to Belfast as she'd promised, to show her gold medal to the City and bring people to the streets with something happy to cheer.