Freeman’s rival Perec flees Sydney Olympics

The Age’s coverage of Perec’s departure from the Sydney OlympicsCredit:Age

The situation did not improve after Perec, now in hysterical sobs, turned off her cell phone to board a flight to Melbourne, where she spoke to Menant again shortly after midnight.

She seemed calmer this time and told Menant that she was eager to seek comfort from her family. Leading begged Perec to stay, begged her not to give up, and Perec hesitated but eventually boarded his flight from Singapore.

But her family, in the form of boyfriend Maybanks, only served to tarnish her increasingly hysterical image upon arriving in Singapore early yesterday. Maybanks, airports and television crews proved to be a deadly combination in his partner’s unsuccessful attempt for a third 400-meter Olympic title.

Upon arriving in Sydney, Maybanks attempted to block a Channel 7 cameraman with his luggage cart. The Singapore incident created more concern.

“Give me the tape,” asked Maybanks, a non-US Olympic relay runner, “You don’t come near me or I’ll hurt you. “

Singapore police said late yesterday they would not press charges against Maybanks after the couple left Singapore for Europe.

Given that Perec was considered by Australia to be the woman between Freeman and Australia’s first Olympic track gold medal since Seoul 1988, you might think that the tortuous and bizarre retirement of the Frenchwoman from the Games the Sydney Olympics was a source of celebration yesterday at Camp Freeman.

Not so. Freeman’s relatives weren’t saying much except that the frontrunner was taken aback by Perec’s departure. It was also pointed out that as long as Perec remains a confirmed starter in tonight’s heat, she will be seen as a threat.

The strong French theory in several reports, however, was that it was Freeman who unknowingly excited Perec with his starring role in the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Perec and Freeman have only seen each other on TV for the past few weeks, but when Perec, who has not paraded with the France squad, watched Freeman light the cauldron, she reportedly broke down emotionally.

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The story of Marie-José Perec, who grew up in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean and became Reebok’s highest-paid female athlete after her two gold medals in Atlanta and also a popular star on the French catwalks, seems to be s’ to be ended in farce and sadness but there was little sympathy for Perec from the French contingent in Sydney yesterday.

Adam Taloni, the manager of Perec’s Sydney home, the Grand Mercure Apartments, denied that she had been threatened or that an intruder had knocked on her door and harassed her. French chef de mission Michel Vial, who tried unsuccessfully for two days to contact Perec before his departure, said Perec had made a “bad decision” not to stay in the village.

When asked if Perec had arrived in Sydney and had been training periodically at Narrabeen on Sydney’s North Peninsula just to satisfy sponsors, Vial replied: “It would be a shame if that was (the reason). It would be loathsome.

Perec had only competed in one 400-meter race since his loss to Freeman at the end of the 1996 season and trained in secret all year round in Rostock on the Baltic Sea under the direction of the last of a trainer series, Wolfgang Meier. For years, Perec had claimed that Meier’s wife, 400-meter world record holder Marita Koch, was a drug cheater. Then at the start of the year, she hired him as a coach.

In July, she accepted a rare interview with France TV6 but when the team arrived in Rostock, she said in front of the camera: “I don’t care about TV. I don’t care about the media and you can’t imagine how much I care about you. I do not need you.

She fled with as much determination from the French media as from the Australian she accused of harassing her. Noted Le Figaro Cédric Voisard yesterday: “She herself built the problems in Australia. The safest place you can live during the Games is the village. She’s paranoid. The real question is: did she really want to run? This is the big question for Reebok, its sponsor.

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The biggest Australian winner in regards to Perec’s first round tonight, however, was Nova Peris-Kneebone. His heat remains harsh, even without Perec. Now two of Freeman’s biggest threats to the 400m final are Briton Katharine Merry and Jamaican Sandie Richards, and both will face Peris-Kneebone.

And Freeman’s response to the Perec saga? “Cathy was gracious and courageous in addressing the issue at the Australian press conference on Tuesday,” said Simon Allatson, Managing Director of Athletic Australia. “Cathy Freeman is a class act and I think she has blossomed tremendously since she was cleared and decided to take care of these things more on her own.”

While Perec’s midnight departure caused some happiness in parts of the Australian camp, Freeman was not celebrating.

Just as Perec watched from afar Freeman light the Olympic cauldron last Friday night, Freeman looked at Perec. And since all the times she watched Perec’s little screens fleeing, Freeman never saw her disappear.

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