Sydney: The pressure of defending her Olympic 200 and 400 metre titles may have been behind French track champion Marie-Jose Perec's dramatic departure from the Sydney Games, a top Olympic official said on Friday.
Francois Carrard, director-general of the International Olympic Committee, said the IOC had not been informed officially that the reclusive runner had quit the Olympics.
"It's a matter between her and the French National Olympic Committee, he said. He said the IOC had no comment on the matter, but added that the pressure may have told on the temperamental 32-year-old.
"Sometimes young people under these pressures and tensions make choices and decisions which are not the best ones," Carrard told a regular IOC news conference.
The triple Olympic champion won gold in the 400 metres in Barcelona and a 200-400 double at the 1996 Atlanta Games, since when she has been plagued by injury and illness. She had been due to compete in her 400 metres heat on Saturday.
She fled Sydney on Thursday after alleging that a man had forced his way into her room and threatened her. The high-security luxury hotel in Sydney's Darling Harbour where she had been staying away from the publicity glare said it had found no evidence of a security breach.
Perec's exit denied Australians the prospect of a showdown in the 400 metres final between the elegant Frenchwoman from Guadeloupe and home favourite Cathy Freeman, the world champion.
Freeman shrugged off the Perec drama. "I don't want to know about it," said the Aboriginal runner. "I'm focused on my race and the opponents who will definitely be running. I'm not underestimating anyone. It is the Olympics."But Australian newspapers gloated in Perec's withdrawal.
Aussie newspapers gloat over Perec exit
"Mademoiselle La Chicken" was the splash headline in Friday's Daily Telegraph tabloid. It said Perec was "running scared". It quoted Australian head coach Chris Wardlaw as saying Perec knew she was not in sufficient shape to challenge for her third successive 400 metres Olympic title.
"She's obviously not ready to run," Wardlaw said. The Australian newspaper chose the headline "Perec's Great Escape", adding, "Perec would never admit she could not beat Freeman."
The fiercely independent Perec was on her way to Paris on Friday after being questioned by police during a stopover in Singapore with her fiancee Anthuan Maybank over a scuffle between him and a television cameraman at Changi international airport.
Police in Singapore said no further action would be taken. Perec has long had a difficult relationship with athletics officials and the media and had run only twice this year.
She lived up to her Greta Garbo reputation in Sydney by shunning the French athletics team's official news conference on Tuesday. She also irritated French officials by declining to join their team training camp in the Sydney suburb of Narrabeen.
Her sponsor Reebok declined comment on Friday on whether Perec's sudden flight from Sydney would threaten her lucrative sponsorship deals with the sports goods company.
"That's something that is going to have to wait until the appropriate people meet," said Reebok spokeswoman Rose Di Rico.