The athletes of Belfast can now run on a top class Olympic track — or Olympic cushioned rubber, to be exact.
And that’s thanks to Dame Mary Peters who was the guest of honour on Thursday as the south Belfast track built in honour of her gold medal heroics was unveiled after a £3m revamp.
The new state-of-the-art running ground in Malone has been laid with the same cushioned surface as used at London 2012 after efforts by Dame Mary herself.
She was also delighted to see the old six-lane track replaced with eight to keep it in line with Olympic standards.
The 36-year-old facility, set in a natural amphitheatre, now boasts a field events area and a floodlit spectator stand which can seat 400 people. Speaking at yesterday’s launch of the new and improved track, Dame Mary said building a cutting-edge eight-lane track was a lifelong ambition.
“Today feels like a rebirth for me. When I cast my mind back to the days of me training, the conditions were pretty grim,” she said.
“It was a six-lane track that was falling apart. It didn’t make winning easy.
“It has been a long struggle to get here, but boy, is it worth it. I remember training on dark, cold nights when not a soul was around. Now, we can have spectators to cheer on our athletes.”
Declaring the track among the best in Europe, Dame Mary said she was confident it would give promising young athletes “a bright start”. The 1972 Olympic gold medallist has campaigned for improved facilities in Belfast since winning her gold medal in Munich. The Malone Road running track, which was named after her in 1976, has been revamped as part of the Belfast City Council’s £150m investment programme.
And the former pentathlete believes it will change the landscape of Northern Irish sport.
“This track is for everyone. It’s of international standard, but it’s here to be used by both professionals and amateurs alike,” she added.
“That was my vision all along. This track is a wonderful opportunity for the people of Belfast, par
ticularly in austere times”. The reopened track is the first finished project in the council’s investment programme. Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson said: “Investing £3m in this project has made it truly fit for purpose.
“Dame Mary Peters is an important figure to us all, and to honour her with the promise of future athletic success is very fitting.
“This track has played its part as a nurturing ground for young ambitious talents.”
The venue has already been booked up for major events and will be home to the 2013 World Police and Fire Games this summer.
During the 1980s, the track attracted huge crowds to see top athletes compete with big names such as Linford Christie, Geoff Capes, Fatima Whitbread and Zola Budd all paying visits to south Belfast.
The £3m revamp to the Mary Peters Track includes:
- a new eight-lane track
- a field events area
- a floodlit spectator stand for 400 people