Why a local family has sights set on Dame Mary's special event

SUNDAY July 5 will be a bitter-sweet day for the family of the late Les Jones, the Portadown man who was a top athletics administrator and who died in his sleep in 1992.

The late Les's wife - now Mrs Lesley Harkness - will be taking part in a charity event being organised by Olympic Gold Medalist Dame Mary Peters, who was manager of the British ladies' team. Les managed the men's team, although it was during a different period than Mary's sojourn.

The charity event is at the Mary Peters Track in Belfast, and those taking part can either choose a 10k run or a mile walk - four laps of the track.

"We are taking the easier option and doing the mile walk and are seeking sponsors," said Lesley. "My husband Ronnie and I, daughter Kerri and her boyfriend Jason are all taking part, both to honour Les's memory and to help Mary raise money for her Mary Peters Trust."

Former Portadown College Head Girl Mary struck gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics in the pentathlon - an amalgam of the 100m hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot putt and 200m.

Her time at Portadown College overlapped with that of Les - she left in 1957 and he left in 1962 - and while he was a keen long distance runner, his true forte was as an administrator.

He was in Italy with the British men's team when his sudden death shocked the athletics world. Stars like Linford Christie and Steve Cram attended his funeral at Bluestone Methodist Church.

"We were asked to do our bit for the charity and we're only too delighted to help Mary's cause," said Lesley.

The Trust exists to help support talented young athletes, male and female, able-bodied and disabled, and with Mary reaching the age of 70 on Monday July 6, she thought it appropriate to organise the event to mark that milestone in her life.

Anyone interested in walking the mile or running the 10k can do so by going online at www.niathletics.org and registering.

It is sponsored by Linwood Foods and promoted by Athletics Northern Ireland and supported by Sport Northern Ireland.

Said Mary, "It will be so uplifting to see people from all over the province turning up to race in support of the Trust and the event is, of course, especially meaningful for me because of my 70th birthday.

"We have so much talent in Northern Ireland that needs and deserves to be nurtured, so get out those running shoes, give the race a go and let's raise lots of money for our young sporting stars of the future!"