Lady Mary Peters planning on taking it easy after 80th birthday celebrations

A British Olympic gold medal winner who dedicated most of her life to raising money for good causes has promised to take it easier after she celebrates her 80th birthday on Saturday.

Lady Mary Peters won the pentathlon with a world record-breaking performance in the Munich Olympics of 1972.

She survived paramilitary death threats and avoided the bombings in Troubles Belfast on her way to training.

She has spent the last half-century raising money for good causes and has been aiming at a £1 million target so young athletes continue to benefit as a legacy after her death.

Lady Mary said: “I have been fundraising since I won my medal, which was 47 years ago, I think it is time for me.

“I have neglected my friends over the years, I have other ideas of travel that I would like to do and I would just like to be able to sit down some days in my sun room and chill.”

She walks four miles most days, works in her large garden and also does patchwork quilting.

In June, she was made a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter. She has recovered from open heart surgery.

She is having a low-key birthday celebration with her family.

She said: “I am not going to be idle but I want more time for me.

“And I won’t neglect the Trust because it has helped so many and will in the future.

“And that is what the million pounds was about, a legacy so that when I am no longer here they will invest that money and young people will continue for years to come to benefit from the Trust.”

She heads the Mary Peters Trust, which provides financial support to young athletes.

In the 1972 Olympics, Lady Mary won gold and her life changed forever.

Mary Peters
Mary Peters

Just 44 days beforehand, the IRA had detonated 22 bombs in 75 minutes which devastated Belfast and Northern Ireland.

She was the only track athlete to win gold for Britain in Munich, but her triumph was tempered by the kidnapping of Israeli athletes by Palestinian paramilitary group Black September.

She recalled the authorities had not expected any violence and wanted to show Germany in a good light so security was not as tight as it should have been.

She said: “They have had to live with it for all those years since, I have been back a number of times and they don’t want to talk about Munich because of the tragedy.”

Her win over the home favourite was a massive international story; she came from a Northern Ireland blighted by the violence.

She was threatened with being shot should she return there from Munich; but paraded down the main street of Belfast in triumph.

She said: “In my mind there was no question I was coming home and it just put a dampener on the whole event, but for the Israelis it was tragic.”

Her resilience was evident from her earliest days, travelling across battleground Belfast with a backdrop of bombings.

Lady Mary added: “Very often when I was going to the track, which was in bad order, I would get the bus from where I lived on the Antrim Road into Belfast and then another bus up to the Upper Malone Road.

“It was not easy carrying your shot and your starting blocks and all the equipment.

“Very often there would be bombs going off in the city. But I always say, I never turned back, I never went home.

“I just had to get there and do my training.”

No financial help was available, her only support was her coach Buster McShane and the other athletes she trained with.

She said: “Mike (Bull) and I used to train late at night in the gym after I had done my day’s work.

“We put diving belts on round our waists and jumping for height – it was an Olympic competition.

“I loved it, I loved the challenge and the friendships and trained with a lot of men because they were faster and stronger and they were very supportive.”