How Tele helped to make Mary Peters’ dream come true
Euphoria gripped Northern Ireland. Twenty-four hours earlier at the Olympic Stadium, Munich, Mary Peters — simply Mary P to her friends — had become the greatest woman athlete in the world.
The superstar, now Dame Mary, had in 1972 brought a ray of hope and rejoicing to the province, plagued by the bomb, bullet, murder and mayhem in the midst of the civil unrest.
She was returning home a hero to a ticker-tape welcome, organised by the Belfast Telegraph, down Royal Avenue.
Tim Willis, then Telegraph managing director, had read the back page splash on Mary’s golden day. “Get her on the telephone,” he said.
We tracked her down to a restaurant in the mountains near Munich.
“We want to commemorate your magnificent achievement. What would you like?” he asked.
In an instant Mary replied: “A high standard synthetic athletic track constructed for the benefit of the entire community at Queen’s Upper Malone sports complex.”
She had, of course, spent many relentless hours there in pre-Olympic training.
“Done,” replied Willis. It was just like that.
I asked him did he realise the enormity of the commitment, for this was a mammoth fund-raising project. But we pressed ahead after Sir Arthur Vick, Queen’s vice-chancellor, had agreed to provide the site.
Committees were formed, the financial appeal launched. Initially the flow of cash was promising, then as the months rolled on it slowly diminished.
All stops had to be pulled out by the Telegraph with Mary working 18 hours a day on the project and pressurising government to give its commitment on a pound for pound basis raised by the appeal.
The university contributed £15,000, raised by them to restore their original rubber surface which had deteriorated.
Indeed, Mary took a slab of the track and presented it to the Secretary of State, William Whitelaw, on one of his many visits.
An everest of varying problems were overcome and eventually the great day dawned — April 19, 1976 when 10,000 attended the opening ceremony.
One person was missing — Buster McShane, the ex-shipyard man who had made Mary into a champion. More than two years earlier he was killed when he lost control of his car and hit a wall at Holywood.
Here was a community united in sport. United to pay tribute to the girl who, although English-born, is part of the very fabric of Ulster.
It was Mary’s day — a day when all sections of the province came to see THEIR £160,000 stretch of tartan track built through the generosity of the people for the people.
Emotion filled Mary as she stood on the platform — a tractor truck — and thanked all who had contributed.
Her voice quivered, tears ran down her cheeks. Her dream had been fulfilled.
That track is a symbol of Mary’s magnificent feats. A remarkable woman who has won the hearts of many nations, of people of every colour and creed. A woman who has put service before herself. Our Mary.
Dr Malcolm Brodie, former Sports Editor of the Belfast Telegraph and Ireland’s Saturday Night, was secretary of the Mary Peters Track fundraising committee, generously supported by the Belfast Telegraph.