Peters, Mary (1939—)

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Peters, Mary (1939—)

British athlete who won the gold medal in the Pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Born in Northern Ireland in 1939.

A competitor in the pentathlon, a grueling five-event competition (hurdles, shot-put, high jump, long jump, and 200-meter run) that has been called a mini-decathlon, Mary Peters not only captured a gold medal at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, but did so at age 33, when, as she said, "time was running out." Following her win, she was heralded as an "overnight success," despite 17 previous years as a competitor.

Peters began her Olympic career in Tokyo in 1964, finishing fourth in the pentathlon, in which points are earned for each of the five competitions and the athlete with the highest total takes home the gold. Four years later, in Mexico City, Peters captained the British women's team, but finished a disappointing ninth in the competition. As the 1972 Munich Games approached, she knew it would be her last chance to capture the gold.

On the first day of the two-day competition, Peters came in second in the 100-meter hurdles, and won both the shot-put and the high jump, coming away with a substantial lead in points. "I knew that I had to make the most of my first three events," she recalled, "because the long jump and 200-meters on the second day were not my best events." Indeed, on the second day, Heidemarie Rosendahl of West Germany, the world record-holder in the long jump, leapt close to three feet farther than Peters. In the final event, the 200-meters, Peters was again nosed out by Rosendahl and by Burglinde Pollak of East Germany. However, when the finishing times were converted into points, Peters had overcome her rivals, beating Rosendahl by 10 points and Pollak by 33.


Greenspan, Bud. 100 Greatest Moments in Olympic History. Los Angeles, CA: General Publishing, 1995.

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Peters, Mary (1939—)

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