Referred to as the ‘Maputo Express’ in the world of sports, former world and Olympic champion Maria Mutola is regarded as the greatest female 800m athlete in the history of the event. Born on the 27th of October 1972 in Chamanculo district of Maputo, Maria was the dominant force in the 800m for over a decade from 1993 until 2006, before her retirement in 2008 after Beijing Olympics.
Maria is the youngest of ten children and her first love was football. A chance meeting with José Craveirinha, one of Mozambique’s leading poets and literary figures led the teenage Maria to switch to athletics. At the age of 14, with only a few months of training and coached by Craveirinha’s son, she won a silver medal in 800m at the 1988 African Championship in Annaba, Algeria.
Through the Olympic Solidarity Commission, she arrived in the USA on a scholarship grant in 1991 to pursue her education at Springfield High School in Oregon. Competing in the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, Maria was clocked at 1:57:63 (then World Junior Record), finishing fourth and just missed out on a medal after being impeded by Ella Kovacs.
1993 was the year Maputo Express began her world dominance when she won gold at both the IAAF World Championships in Stuttgart and IAAF World Indoor Championships in Toronto. She went on to win both championships combined 10 times.
Hot favorite for the gold at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, after going undefeated from 1992, she could only settle for bronze due to flu. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Maria Mutola finally won the gold medal in the 800m. In 2003, she bagged the one million dollar jackpot for going undefeated during the IAAF Golden League series that year.
Maria Mutola established the Lurdes Mutola Foundation in 2001 in Maputo with the aim to “Help, Support and Build Mozambique.” In recognition of her outstanding achievements, Maria was appointed an honorary UN Youth Ambassador in 2003. She has cited the importance of raising awareness of HIV/AIDS issues among young people in Africa, as well as highlighting the benefits that sports can bring to them.
If you are in Maputo, pay a visit to the Lurdes Mutola Foundation and support them. You can visit them online at: http://www.flmutola.org.mz/
Did you know…?
- Maria Mutola was born in Chamanculo district of Maputo on October 27, 1972…
- She was nicknamed Lurdinha and was so good at football that she enrolled in the Aguia d’Ouiro male soccer team.
- She was 14 when she took part in her first Olympics in 1988 in Seoul, and although she ran a personal best in the heat, she placed last and was eliminated.
- At the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Tokyo, Maria was elbowed twice by Ella Kovacs as she attempted to overtake Kovacs.
- Mutola’s catalogue of gold medals include: an Olympic, 3 IAAF World Championships, 7 IAAF World Indoor Championships, 2 Commonwealth Games, 3 All-Africa Games, and 5 African Championships, apart from the several IAAF Golden League series and other races.
- Maria Mutola competed at 6 Olympic Games and is the fourth track & field athlete to do so.
- At the 2008 Olympics, Maria led the pack until the last few meters when she was overtaken by three competitors, among whom was training partner, Kelly Holmes of Britain who won the gold.
- She was one of the eight flag bearers at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
- In 1997, Lurdinha ran with a black ribbon at the IAAF World Indoor Championship, weeks after her father’s death in an auto crash. She dedicated her victory to his memory.
- She became the first sole winner of the one million dollar IAAF Golden League jackpot in 2003, and the highest earning female athlete in history. Her earnings from IAAF events alone that year totaled $1,190,000.
- After calling it quits with the tracks in 2008, Mutola returned to her first love, football and played for Mamelodi Sundowns FC in the South African women league. She even captained the Mozambique female national team to the 2011 All-Africa Games in Maputo.
Afro Tourism salutes the Maputo Express, a living legend, city icon and brave woman of Maputo: Maria Lurdes ‘Lurdinha’ Mutola!