Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Beauty of Sport, Part Two: French track star Marie-José Pérec

In France, they called her "La Gazelle" for her grace on the track.  And if you were ever lucky enough to see Marie-José Pérec run - specifically, at the Olympics - you'd agree.

Born on the French island of Guadeloupe in the West Indies, Marie-José Pérec became a French national treasure in women's athletics when she became the world champion in the women's 400-meter track race in 1991.  She repeated the feat in 1995, and she won the gold medal in the same race at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in between.

At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Americans got to see firsthand what the fuss was all about.  Pérec won the women's 400-meter and 200-meter races, setting a new Olympic record of 48.25 seconds in the former race.  She became only the second female athlete to win both races in the same Olympiad, after American runner Valerie Brisco-Hooks at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.  Ironically, American track star Michael Johnson shared the stage with Pérec in Atlanta by becoming the first man to win both the 400-meter and 200-meter races in the same Olympiad ever.  To watch two great athletes of each gender simultaneously accomplish a feat achieved by only one person before was a magical experience, and "La Gazelle" provided a good deal of that magic. :-) 

Marie-José Pérec is retired today, and she became a mother in 2010, giving birth to a son. 

Fun fact: Marie-José Pérec trained in Los Angeles to escape unwanted attention from the French media.  Because of her lack of fame in America (and many of America's own track athletes aren't so famous in their own homeland either), Pérec is possibly the only person who ever went to Hollywood to seek anonymity. :-D 

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