Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Another triumph for Mary and Coe

Dame Mary Peters unveils new £3m facilities

The man who delivered London's resoundingly successful 2012 Olympic Games will this summer add his powerful endorsement to the future development of athletics in Northern Ireland.

Lord Seb Coe, head of the London 2012 organising committee, will perform the official re-opening ceremony of the Mary Peters Track, newly restored to international standards with an increase from six lanes to eight, a 400-seater grandstand and floodlighting in a £3million upgrade by Belfast City Council.

That will happen on Tuesday, June 25 ahead of the first full-scale meeting on the new track and the quest is now on to attract a quality entry in keeping with the magnificently refurbished facilities, the track itself being an exact replica of the London Olympic stadium version.

The difference is that running shoes are again pounding the Peters Track, unlike the currently out-of-use London stadium.

A 'soft' opening yesterday by Belfast Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson and council colleague Deirdre Hargey means athletic clubs and schools here are now, quite literally, back on track after a nomadic year while improvement work was carried out.

Even amid the snow flurries in south Belfast, it looked superb.

That, in essence, was the vision conceived by Dame Mary within hours of her 1972 Munich Olympics pentathlon Gold medal win – to this day, Northern Ireland's sole Olympic and track and field gold success.

Dame Mary recalled at yesterday's re-opening: "I was celebrating in a restaurant in Munich when a telephone call came through from Malcolm Brodie, the late sports editor of the Belfast Telegraph, who we greatly miss here today.

"He had a great passion for the Track and its purpose and was instrumental in its development and subsequent redevelopment.

"Malcolm said to me that night: 'The people of Northern Ireland would like to recognise your achievement... what can we give you?'

"I immediately replied 'a track'. Little did I know I would spend the next three years of my life working with Malcolm and others to fund the dream.

"But looking at what we have here today, thanks to the City Council's support and belief, it was all worthwhile.

"Our original concept was for an eight-lane track but we simply ran out of money and went with what we could afford.

"It has taken a long time since the track was first laid in 1975. In more recent years, it became increasingly obvious that the old track was approaching the end of its life, but, again, funding was always a problem.

"It was a godsend when the Council stepped in to ensure the legacy of the track continues for future generations. I am in my 70's now and nothing delights me more on a summer evening than to stroll up to this wonderful, natural amphitheatre and watch our young athletes go through their paces.

"The big names are wonderful to see but as patron of Athletics NI, it's more important to me to see our own young athletes making progress and now, for the second time in my lifetime, we are providing them with a stage for their talent."

The story of the track from day one has been of contacts worked and favours called in, the latest being the recruitment of ostensibly the most influential figure in British sport, Lord Coe, to perform the opening ceremony.

The connection goes way back – Dame Mary was Coe's Great Britain team manager when he won his 1500m Gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics at the height of his legendary rivalry with 800m winner Steve Ovett.

In turn, Coe invited Dame Mary to be one of the Olympic greats in the front line of the London opening ceremony last summer.

Keeping the Track going, alongside her Trust fund in aid of young local sportsmen and women, has been a personal triumph to match her Olympic Gold.

The hope now is that Lord Coe will not arrive in Belfast in June unaccompanied and that the track that played host to the greats of the 80s, from Linford Christie and Ed Moses to Tessa Saunderson and Zola Budd, could have the old amphitheatre rocking again.

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