News23 Jun 1999

Triple Olympic champion Perec back from the brink


Marie-José Perec (© Getty Images)

Marie José Perec, the Olympic 200m and 400m champion in 1996 and Barcelona winner in the 400m, said her Epstein-Barr virus, a nasty type of glandular fever, had left her feeling she would never run again.

But now she is fit again after two years out of competitive athletics and is setting her sights on defending her two Olympic track titles in Sydney next year.

"I'm thinking above all of the Olympic Games. It's in Sydney that I have a rendez-vous with history," Perec said in an interview published in the French sports daily L'Equipe on Thursday.

Perec, speaking in Eugene, Oregon, where she is attending the U.S. national championships with her coach John Smith, said the World Championships in Seville, Spain this August were not her main objective.

"There are two months to go before Seville but the World Championships are not a priority. If the chance arises to run decently in Seville I'd go."

Perec, 31, has not competed at a major meeting since she withdrew from the 200 metres semi-finals at the 1997 World Championships in Athens when she pulled a thigh muscle whilst warming up.

Perec's virus had nestled around the muscle of her heart, which she said perhaps was linked to an inherited flaw in a heart valve. The virus, which brings about an incredible fatigue, takes two to four weeks to get out of the system but the side effects often take much longer to leave the body. She was diagnosed in March 1998 by doctors in Los Angeles, and with the medication necessary has put on 12 kilograms weight during this period.

"I thought my career was over and I was really depressed. I thought I was almost dead," Perec said.

Perec might run in a Golden League meeting at the Charlety stadium in Paris on July 21, and perhaps at the Grand Prix meeting in Nice "Nikaia" on July 17.

"I'm returning to Paris soon and I'd like to run in some meetings between now and the end of the season, but it's my body that will decide."

She will make a decision whether to compete in the French championships in Niort at the end of next month, and if all goes well, just might earn her ticket for a possible appearance in Seville.

A positive Perec said she was looking ahead rather than into the past. "My illness is behind me," she said.

Agencies for the IAAF

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