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Tuesday, 7 November, 2000, 15:36 GMT
The Maputo express

Maria won Mozambique's first ever Olympic gold
By Jose Tembo in Maputo

The world's fastest woman over 800 metres is Maria Mutola - and she has overcome remarkable odds to reach the top.


To be the first Mozambican to be able to grab gold, I was very happy and emotional.

Maria Muitoia
She was born in Chamanculo, a poor shanty town in the suburbs of the Mozambican capital, Maputo, on 27 October 1972.

And says that she got where she has with hard work and dedication.

"It doesn't matter where you come from. If you come from a rich or poor area or family, you can always achieve your goals at school or in sports - if you focus enough and dedicate yourself".

Talent

Until the beginning of her teens, Mutola played football with men in the Chamanculo neighbourhood until Mozambican writer, Jose Craveirinha, noticed a possible athletics talent when she was 14.

Olympic factfile
1988 Seoul - competed age 15
1992 Barcelona - 800m - 5th
1996 Atlanta - 800m bronze
2000 Sydney - 800m gold
"He (Craveirinha) told me that if I trained hard enough I could be lucky to represent my country in competitions overseas," a smiling Mutola told me at Maputo International Airport before she flew back to the United States where she is now based.

And nothing could slow down the Maputo Express.

After four months of serious training, she excelled and won her first international race. At 15 she was competing in the Olympics.

But her crowning achievement to date is without doubt the gold medal she won in this year's Olympic Games held in the Australian city of Sydney - Mozambique's first ever Olympic gold.

Emotional

"To be the first Mozambican to be able to grab gold, I was very happy and emotional," Mutola said.

flood victim
Mozambique was devastated by floods early this year
Her victory put Mozambique on the world map and was received back home with joy and jubilation.

When she returned home from Sydney, Mutola was given a red carpet reception right from the packed airport.

She could hardly hide her tears as she walked past the traditional dance groups that tirelessly shouted her name and gave her messages of praise and encouragement.

In response Mutola said: "I dedicate this gold medal to all Mozambicans, because it's the first Olympic gold medal for our country".

During her return home, Mutola had a tight schedule, visiting central and northern Mozambican provinces. She also met the prime minister and president.

'This was my first visit to the provinces and I enjoyed seeing the smiling faces of people who came to see me to say well-done Maria, good job Maria', she explained.

Maria Mutola Avenue

After the Sydney victory, the Mozambican Government decided to, among other things, name one of the avenues of the capital after her.


I'm still young and have a lot to do

Maria Mutola
The school where she did her primary education now also bears her name.

Mutola would love to inspire fellow Mozambicans, particularly youngsters, to take part in sports and said she hoped her victory in Sydney would help people forget about the evil things that have ravaged Mozambique, including poverty, the war, the floods and other natural disasters.

She says that like many other women and men, she dreams of having her own family, but is in no hurry.

"I'm still young and have a lot to do... I just wanna run a few more years, maybe one more Olympic games. Then, I can actually quit'.

She doesn't want to think that with this year's Olympic victory she has accomplished everything, "because if I think that way, I'll start losing races".

And she says she now has set her sights on breaking the world record in the 800 and 1500 metres.

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See also:

10 Aug 00 | Athletics-Track
The ascent of Africa
25 Sep 00 | Athletics-Track
Gold for Mozambique
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