Perec has to retire as injury persists

 

Athletics: The triple Olympic champion Marie-Jose Perec (36) retired from athletics yesterday after four seasons of doubt and hesitation. Perec said that she had made her decision in September after missing the Paris World Championships because of a sciatic nerve injury.

One of the stars of the Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics, the French woman needed the four years between the Sydney and Athens Games to realise she would never make it back to the top.

"For a few weeks, I tried to run again several times with the Athens Olympics in mind," Perec said. "Symbolically, I could see myself finish my career in the Olympics homeland.

"I jogged a little, in Paris and at home in Guadeloupe but I could feel my body tell me to stop it, that it was enough." She said her ideal farewell would have been to "win a fourth Olympic gold in Sydney and say goodbye".

The Guadeloupe-born athlete had not competed since she fled the 2000 Sydney Olympics and a showdown with Australian Cathy Freeman, claiming she had received death threats.

Freeman, who won the gold medal on an emotional night for the host nation, retired almost a year ago.

Perec announced her return to training in February last year, hoping to take her revenge on home soil against Freeman at the World Championships in Paris.

But the injuries which plagued her career struck again.

Perec became the second woman in history to complete an Olympic 200-400 metres double at the 1996 Atlanta Games having won the 400 metres gold four years earlier in Barcelona. She also won world titles over 400 metres in 1991 and 1995.

She did not run for two years after the Atlanta Games citing chronic fatigue syndrome and off the track she was a controversial figure.

"Marie-Jo has a difficult temper. She is egocentric and often behaves as if she were the centre of the universe," said her former coach Francois Pepin.

After running to her double in Atlanta, she was seen live on television abusing cameramen because their close-ups did not show her personal sponsor's name printed on a T-shirt she had slipped over her national team's jersey.

The Sydney Games were her downfall. She disappeared in the middle of the night with her boyfriend, American sprinter Anthuan Maybank, acting as a bodyguard to fend off the television crews.

"I only have one regret - not to have written the last page of this beautiful story in Sydney. But well, it's an incident that is part of the story," she said.

"The 400 metres in Sydney was not a race against Cathy Freeman, it was a race against an entire nation which had its problems.

"I was only prepared for a 400 metres, for sport," she said.

Perec, who cited her first Olympic gold in Barcelona as her fondest memory, said she would go to Athens as a consultant, without feeling any frustration.

"I'm retiring a contented woman. I had great emotions and now I want to know what it's like on the other side," she said.

Careerhighlights

Won Olympic titles over 400 metres in 1992 and 1996 and over 200 metres in 1996. World 400 champion in 1991 and 1995. European 400 champion in 1994.

1987: Wins her first French Championship title.

1988: Sets first 400 metres French record in 51.35 seconds. First Olympics in Seoul, going out in the 200 metres quarter-finals.

1989: Wins 400 metres in World Cup but is disqualified for stepping into another lane.

1991: Starts working with coach Jacques Piasenta and wins first World Championship title in Tokyo.

1992: Becomes Olympic champion in Barcelona.

1993: Misses most of the season through injury but becomes first French woman under 22 seconds for 200 metres in 21.99.

1994: Leaves France for Los Angeles to train with John Smith. Wins 400 metres and 4x400 metres relay at the European Championships in Helsinki.

1995: Wins her second world 400 metres title in Gothenburg.

1996: Wins 200 metres and 400 metres gold medals at the Atlanta Olympics.

1997: Out of form, she gives up in the 200 metres semi-finals at the Athens World Championships.

1998: Takes a year off with a viral infection.

1999: Moves to Rostock to train with world record holder Marita Koch's husband Wolfgang Meier.

2000: Leaves the Sydney Olympics without competing, saying she had received death threats on the telephone.

2003: Withdraws from World Championships in Paris due to a sciatic nerve injury.