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Sprinter Perec Leaves Sydney Amid Mysterious Circumstances

September 21, 2000|RANDY HARVEY and DAVID HUEBNER

Marie-Jose Perec, the enigmatic Frenchwoman who was expected to provide Australia's Cathy Freeman with her most serious challenge in the 400 meters, left the country, and apparently the Summer Olympics, behind Wednesday night under a cloud of mystery.

Confirming that Perec, the 1996 gold medalist in the 200 and 400, had boarded a flight bound for London via Melbourne and Singapore, a spokesperson for her athletic shoe and apparel supplier said that the sudden departure was instigated by an attack on Perec in her Darling Harbor apartment.

Patricia Menant of Reebok France said that a man knocked on Perec's door Wednesday afternoon, claiming that he had a package to deliver, and when she opened the door, he forced his way into the room, "pushed her, insulted her and threatened her."

"He said something to the effect that if she stayed in the country or came back, he would get her," Menant said, describing the man as an English speaker with an Australian accent.

The general manager of the Grand Mercure apartments, where Perec was staying, said that he had received no report of the incident. Neither was a report filed with New South Wales police.

French track and field officials said today they had learned that Perec had not yet left Singapore and they were hopeful that she would return in time for Friday's first-round of the 400.

Except for Australian Olympic heroes such as Ian Thorpe, Susie O'Neill and Freeman, Perec has received more media attention than any athlete here, primarily because of the great lengths she has gone to avoid attention.

The Australian media have portrayed her as Garboesque, an image she contributed to by refusing to associate with French teammates or officials, renting her own private training site and failing to attend a scheduled news conference Tuesday.

On her Web site last week, she said that some Australian media were harassing her in a conspiracy among themselves to enhance Freeman's gold-medal chances.

"I have the impression everything is being fabricated to destablise me," she said. "I have never seen anything like this. It is not right. It has affected me. They just make up rumors."

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