Whatever happened to Marie-Jo?
Almost six months after her abrupt departure from Australia before the Sydney Olympics, French athlete Marie-Jose Perec has all but disappeared.
Three times Olympic champion Perec, whose diva-like behaviour has earned her the nickname of "the Greta Garbo of athletics", left Australia abruptly without competing after claiming she had been threatened by a stalker and harassed by media.
Apart from an interview published in French sports daily L'Equipe shortly after her departure from Sydney, the elegant Guadeloupe-born runner has refused to talk about what prompted her bizarre behaviour - which ruled out her anticipated showdown in the 400 metres final with local star Cathy Freeman.
Perec's close friend Patricia Menant, who works for her sponsors Reebok, said on Thursday she had not heard from the athlete for three weeks.
"Three weeks ago she was not in France, and I don't know where she was. Today, I have no more news of her. I have left messages on her mobile phone and she usually replies to them. I am expecting her to call next week," Menant told Reuters.
"I don't know if she wants to run or to stop. She has stopped with her agent Annick (Avierinos) and I think she has stopped with (her coach) Wolfgang Meier because he wants to train in Germany and she does not want to," she said.
Menant said she did not know where, or even if, Perec wanted to train, adding that she believed her to be with her American boyfriend Anthuan Maybank, with whom she fled Sydney.
"Reebok is still her sponsor, but we need to know if she plans to continue running. We need to know what the future is, because if she isn't going to run, we can't be her sponsor," Menant added.
Bernard Amsalem, president of the French Athletics Federation (FFA) has said the FFA will help Perec, but the organisation is waiting for her to make contact.
"We have heard nothing. The President has said 'call me', but we do not know where she is or when she will be back," said a spokeswoman for the FFA.
A spokeswoman for France's Olympic Committee said that organisation had also heard nothing from Perec, adding she believed she had split with her agent and coach.
Perec's website, plastered with pictures of the athlete and facts and figures recalling her rollercoaster running career, has not been updated since the middle of October - when she promised fans she would speak soon.
E-Mails sent to the website have gone unanswered since September.
It is not the first time that the athlete - whose career has been hampered by injury since her Atlanta victory in the 200 and 400 metres - has refused to talk.
Between September 1998 and July 1999, illness forced her underground and she avoided newspapers.
For the moment, not even her closest friends seem to know of Perec's whereabouts or her plans, and that concerns them.
"I'm worried that she's cut herself off from everyone, that she's become trapped in a kind of paranoia," L'Equipe quoted one associate, who did not wish to be named, as saying last month.
Whatever the precocious star's plans, with the indoor world championships in Lisbon later this month, it is clear Perec has already missed a large portion of the indoor season, which many athletes use as a dress rehearsal for their summer performances.
Organisers of the Goodwill Games in Brisbane in September have been hoping to entice Perec back to Australia to face reigning world and Olympic champion Freeman in a long-awaited showdown.
L'Equipe said Menant had a two-hour conversation with Perec late last year, during which she told the athlete that she should at least try and make the World Championships in Edmonton later this year, "at least half a lap, with your head held high."
It quoted Menant as saying that Perec answered: "You are right, I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror again."