The History of The Mary Peters Track
On Easter Monday, 19 April 1976, the sun shone brightly upon a scene unique not only to Belfast, but to the whole world of sport. It represented the fulfilment of one person’s dream and the achievement of a remarkable exercise in effort and co-operation, by an amazing variety of individuals and organisations from Northern Ireland and further afield. The occasion was the opening of the new Mary Peters Track, and the place, the site of the old Queen’s University athletic track lying in the centre of a natural amphitheatre at the south end of the University’s Malone Playing Fields. In place of the old track, however, there lay a bright red-coloured Tartan track, the material on which the Montreal Olympics were to be held later that year.
After her gold medal triumph in the pentathlon event at the 1972 Munich Olympics, Mary Peters suggested, that to commemorate her victory she would like to see a high-standard synthetic athletic track constructed for the benefit of the people, particularly the young, of Belfast and Northern Ireland.
Shortly after Mary’s return to Belfast, a Fund Raising Committee was formed and a Track Appeal launched. A Steering Committee, representative of the University, the Sports Council, the NIAAA, the NIWAAA, Belfast Telegraph Newspapers, and Mary Peters herself, was established to consider the profile of the track to be laid, and arrangements for its construction and subsequent administration.
It had been proposed that the new track should provide primarily first-rate training facilities as well as being capable of staging international athletics meetings. Indeed, the Committee was more interested in encouraging participation than in simply developing a prestigious complex to be used only on a very limited number of occasions each year. Thus the athletes of Northern Ireland gained a first-rate athletic track in an easily accessible area on the outskirts of Belfast, and the University gained a facility on its property.
The track gave the athletes of the country, the Belfast public and the staff and students of the University, a place to train, coach, and jog, and, since March 1976. In its first season, the track attracted some of the leading British and International athletes to Belfast. At the Opening Meeting, a large crowd of excited children was enthralled by Brian Hooper pole-vaulting his way to a new British record and, later in June of that year, despite a very damp evening, a crowd of 5,000 gathered to watch leading stars such as Steve Riddick (who went on to win a gold medal at the Montreal Olympics), and Andrea Lynch in a meeting organised during the Belfast Festival Week. In July 1977, the track hosted the British Universities’ Athletics Championships, the first time this important event was held in Northern Ireland.
In the nineteen eighties and nineties, many major meetings were held on the track, under the capable direction of inter alia the late Les Jones of the NIAAA. Among those taking part were Ed Moses, John Walker, Steve Ovett, Steve Cram, Zola Budd, Fatima Whitbread, Tessa Sanderson and our own Mike Bull. In more recent years International championship meetings held at the track include the World Transplant Games.
As time passed, and the track surface required major works, it became clear that a voluntary organisation could not hope to generate the cash for the necessary refurbishment. Thus in 1985, after an approach from the Committee, with the support of the University, Belfast City Council very willingly agreed to take responsibility for the Track, while safeguarding the essential ethos of the operations.
The icing on the cake has now been provided by the completion of a £3 million+ project to redevelop the complex through the provision of a new Mondo track of eight lanes and spectator accommodation in a new stand.
The Belfast City Council Mary Peters Track is now managed by Athletics Northern Ireland the governing body for the sport of athletics in Northern Ireland.
[Adapted from an article on the Track, by Roger Glass, then Secretary of the Track Committee, in the Annual Review of The Queen’s University Association 1976]