Mary Peters

Northern Ireland's legendary athlete and gold medal-winning Olympian

A legendary figure in local athletics, Mary Peters was Northern Ireland’s first Olympic Games gold medallist, bringing some much needed good news to the country in the dark days of the early 70s.

Peters was born in Lancashire, England on July 6, 1939, but moved to Northern Ireland with her family aged 11. By the time she left school to train as a teacher in Belfast she was already a notable athlete, and competed in her first Commonwealth Games in 1958.

She gave up teaching in 1961 to work full time in ‘Buster’ McShane’s gym in the city, giving her more time to train, and this increased preparation paid off as Peters was selected to represent Great Britain in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, finishing a creditable fourth in the pentathlon.

Peters was an incredibly versatile athlete, winning Commonwealth Games gold in the shot putt and pentathlon in 1970 and later breaking the indoor world record for 60 metres hurdles. At her peak in the early 1970s, she took gold in the pentathlon at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

She retired from competitive athletics after another Commonwealth gold in 1974, but maintained a high profile as an athletics administrator as well as sitting on several public bodies in Northern Ireland. The Mary Peters track in the Upper Malone area of Belfast is a public recognition of her success.