Maria Mutola

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Maria de Lurdes Mutola (born October 27, 1972) is a female athlete from Mozambique who has specialized in the 800 m. She was born in Maputo, earning her the suiting nickname of "The Maputo Express.[1] She is the fourth track & field athlete to compete at six Olympic Games.

Contents

Career

Teenage years

Mutola was born in the Chamanculo district of Maputo. Her father was employed by the railways and her mother was a market vendor. As a young girl she excelled in football. She played with boys, as there were no leagues or teams for girls. In 1988, at only fifteen years of age, she was encouraged to take up athletics by one of Mozambique's foremost literary figures, the poet Jose Craveirinha, who was a keen sports fan. His son Stelio, himself a former national long jump record holder, was Mutola's first coach. Not used to the intensive training, Mutola initially decided that running was not for her, but was persuaded to continue when it became obvious that she had immense potential. After a visit to Portugal, plans were made for her to join the Benfica athletics club, but at the last minute the Mozambique government denied her permission. That year, after only a few months' training, she won a silver medal in the 800 m at the African Championships, before competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics. She ran a personal best time of 2:04.36, but finished last in her first round heat. Mutola was still only fifteen years old.

Studying and training in the USA

Over the next few years Mutola failed to improve on her best time, but still won gold at the African Championships in Cairo in 1990. She faced little opposition in Mozambique and only trained properly in the run-up to big competitions. Attempts were made to organise scholarships for her to train abroad, but it was not until 1991 that, thanks to an International Olympic Committee Solidarity Program, she went to Oregon, USA to study and train. Springfield High School was the host school, due to the fact that there was a Portuguese-speaking staff member (Mutola spoke no English). She surprised many by finishing 4th in the final of the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo, where her time of 1:57.63 constituted a World Junior Record. Mutola lost out on a medal because she was severely impeded in the final few metres by falling athletes and an unsuccessful protest was lodged.

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