Belfast Telegraph

Golden reunion for Mary Peters and Sebastian Coe

By Carla Bowyer

London 2012 Olympics supremo Lord Coe will do the honours as the starting gun sounds for the first international athletics meeting at the newly upgraded Mary Peters Track.

As plain Seb Coe, the figurehead of the London Games success famously won his 1980 Moscow 1500m Olympic Gold under the Great Britain team management of his great friend, Dame Mary.

They will be reunited on Tuesday, June 25 as Lord Coe (below) officially declares the track open for top class athletics business again after a £3million redevelopment by Belfast City Council.

They will be joined by new Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir as a bronze statue of 1972 pentathlon Olympic champion Dame Mary is also unveiled.

Now the race is on to assemble a field to match the occasion.

First to sign up is the fastest paralympian in history and double gold medallist at London 2012, Jason Smyth from Eglinton, who will compete in his signature 100m and 200m events– the Co Derry star holds world records in both.

Jason will be travelling from his training base in the United States to take part alongside competitors from across the UK and Ireland, as well as the cream of local talent in a still to be finalised line-up.

It will be a soft opening, compared to the heady nights of the 1980s when thousands flocked to the natural ampitheatre to watch the biggest names of the day compete, including Coe and Steve Ovett, John Walker, Ed Moses, Linford Christie, Geoff Capes, Fatima Whitbread, Tessa Saunderson, Kathy Cook, Shirley Strong and, most famously, Zola Budd ahead of her ill-fated 1984 Los Angeles Olympic clash with Mary Decker.

But the extension of the track from six lanes to the present international standard eight, the addition of a 400-seater stand, new changing facilities and a refurbishment of the field area means the basis has been laid for those days to return.

Local clubs and schools have already been back on the Upper Malone track, the development of young local athletes being the principal aim of Dame Mary when she launched her campaign to provide them with a proper launching pad into the sport as a legacy of her 1972 Olympic gold.

Wear and tear and a raising of international standard requirements over the 37 intervening years since the initial opening on Monday, April 19, 1976 meant the Council's £3million overhaul was vital to ensure the future of the track.

Dame Mary will now preside over the rebirth, saying: "I am delighted that Belfast has a truly world-class facility that will serve both current and future generations of young athletes for many years to come."

John Allen, secretary of Athletics NI, added: "The Mary Peters Track international opening event will provide local athletes with an opportunity to compete against top performers from other countries.

"Children from across Northern Ireland will also be given a chance to take to the track to participate in a variety of events in front of family and friends and play their part in one of Northern Ireland's biggest athletics events in many years."

Lord Mayor Ó Muilleoir concurred: "This is a fantastic event for everyone involved and a demonstration, ahead of this year's World Police and Fire Games of how important this track is going to be in attracting high level competition. The facilities are world class but are being used also by schoolchildren and local athletes still striving to reach international level."

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