OLYMPIC medallist Dame Mary Peters will return to her old school, Portadown College, when she features in a BBC 1 documentary on Monday night.
Mary, who moved to Portadown at the age of 14, set a new world record when she won gold in the Pentathlon at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. There, she beat her rival, Heide Rosendahl, by just one tenth of a second, and became the only British athlete to win a gold medal that year.
In ‘Mary Peters:The Run Of Her Life’, which will be aired at 10.35pm, fellow athlete Denise Lewis travels to Belfast to meet Dame Mary and find out how winning changed her life for ever.
Born in Halewood, Lancashire in 1939, Mary moved to Ballymena with her parents Arthur and Hilda when she was 11 and to the Annagh area of Portadown three years later after her father was promoted in his insurance job.
During the programme, Mary is accompanied by Denise as she visits Portadown College, of which she was head girl in 1957, and which was then situated at Bann House in Bridge Street.
Speaking to the Portadown Times this week, Mary said, “I have some very fond memories of Portadown College and particularly the headmaster Donald Woodman who was a very special person and was very kind to me when my mother died when I was 16.
“I loved my school days, even though I wasn’t the most academic pupil. We had no sports pitch but there was a high jump pit behind the school and we used to run on the golf course and also in the park.
“My father put a shot putt circle and a high jump in the field behind our house for me to practice!”
And it was Kenny McClelland, a PE teacher at the College, who helped nurture Mary’s talent, becoming her athletics coach and encouraging her to compete in competitions in Belfast.
In fact, Kenny, Mary and her brother John were among a small group of people who, with the help of a “very accommodating” bank manager, set up an athletics club in Portadown as there was nothing then in the town for aspiring young athletes.
After attending teaching training college in Belfast, Mary qualified as a domestic science teacher and taught at Graymount Secondary School in Belfast for four years, where she met one of the strongest influences in her athletic life, Buster McShane, who she describes as “her coach and a great friend”.
In the course of the programme, she meets fellow athlete Mike Bull, who also trained under Buster, and they discuss Buster’s training methods and Mary recalls the sad moment when she was informed of Buster’s tragic death in a car crash just months after the Munich Games of 1972.
The programme also brings Mary back to the stadium in Munich where she relives her victory 40 years ago - and the moment she discovered that not only had she won the gold medal, but had also set a new world record for the pentathlon.
The pentathlon - consisting of hurdles, shot putt, high jump, long jump and 200m race - has been replaced by the tetrathlon and so Mary’s record is one that will never be beaten.
In Munich, Mary is reunited with her old rival Heide Rosendahl and they reminisce about the 1972 games and also discuss the frightening terrorist attack that took place in the Olympic Village where they stayed when 11 Israeli athletes and officials were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
The documentary features the footage of a triumphant Mary returning to Belfast after the win and she talks of how she readjusted to her new-found celebrity status.
Denise Lewis chats to Mary about the effect that winning the world medal had on her life including her retirement from athletics following the Commonwealth games in 1974, the building of the Mary Peters Track, becoming a Dame in 2000, working as Lord Lieutenant for Belfast and her work as a Team GB ambassador for London 2012.
Mary, who gave up teaching after four years to concentrate on athletics, ran her own health club in Lisburn for 20 years, from 1977-1997. She is one of only four Northern Ireland athletes to have won gold in the Olympics, the others being Robin Dixon who won the bobsleigh competition in the winter Olympics of 1964, and Jimmy Kirkwood and Stephen Martin who were members of the winning hockey squad at the 1988 games.
This Wednesday, in her role as Team GB ambassador, Mary flew over to England to present some of the uniforms to Team GB and is greatly looking forward to the games which start next week.
And once they are over, she will not only be continuing in her role as Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, but will be preparing for her next project - The World Police and Fire Games - which are expected to draw some 25,000 visitors from all over the world.