“As life goes on, I realize that there are two goals in my life and nothing more. That of properly raising my two children, and to serve my country. The rest is unimportant.” (Translated from French).
Olympic medalist and two-times world champion, Nezha Bidouane of Morocco holds the African record 52.90secs in the Women 400m hurdles. A feat she achieved on August 25, 1999, at the World Championship in Seville, Spain.
Born in Rabat, Morocco into a modest family on the 18th of September 1969, Nezha Bidouane grew up in the popular Yacoub El Mansour neighborhood of the city. Like most children in the neighborhood, young Nezha was fascinated by sports and dreamt she would be a successful sports star like those who used to train in the area.
An agile and flexible girl, Nezha Bidouane always wore a smile, but she was focused and determined to be a successful athlete. She soon enrolled in a gymnastics school with the support of her mother, Hajja Fatima, hoping that one day she would be selected.
However, fate had mapped out a course for Nezha Bidouane beyond gymnastics that she did not know about. One day in 1986, her friends from high school asked her to accompany them to Prince Moulay Abdallah Sports Complex in Rabat where they were hoping to be recruited as promising young athletes. It was a day, Nezha has always been grateful for, for her friends’ insistence that she comes with them, as she ended up being selected and signing an athlete’s license with the Moroccan Olympic club.
From then on, Nezha Bidouane’s athletics career began and she dominated national competitions. In her first year, she represented Morocco at the 1986 Arab Junior Championships in Cairo, Egypt and won the gold medal in the 100m hurdles. She also won a silver in the 400m hurdles at the same championship. A year later, she made her senior bow at the Arab Championships in Algiers, Algeria winning bronze in the 100m hurdles.
Algiers again was where Nezha Bidouane won her first senior gold medal, this time at the 1990 Maghreb Games. She came first in the 100m hurdles and the 400m hurdles to win two golds. Also the same year, she struck gold again in the 400m hurdles at the African Championships in Cairo and settled for a silver in the 100m hurdles. A year after, she won the 400m hurdles gold at the 1991 Mediterranean Games in Athens, Greece.
In 1992, Nezha competed at her first Olympics and could only make it to the semi-finals of the 400m hurdles. Also at the World Cup in Havana, Cuba that year she only placed sixth. She, however, returned the following year to win gold in the 400m hurdles at the Mediterranean Games in Narbonne, France.
“I am the fruit of hard work and a tenacity that I would call exceptional. There were many stages in my life that would have discouraged the bravest of girls, but every time I emerged strengthened than weakened.”
Nezha Bidouane had not had a chance to mount the podium on the world stage as done on national, Arab, and African circuits when an injury which required surgery on her Achilles tendon forced her to miss the Atlanta Olympics. Her moment came however in 1997 at the World Championships in Athens, when she won in 52.97secs to become world champion.
In 1998, Nezha Bidouane won gold at the African Championships in Dakar, Senegal and came first at the World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa set a new championship record at 52.96secs. The following year, she set a new African record of 52.90secs at the World Championships in Seville, Spain in a photo-finish final where she was adjudged to have come second behind Daimí Pernía of Cuba who was clocked at 52.89secs.
In the lead up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Nezha Bidouane had the world leading performance, but a health issue meant she could only manage a third-place finish and a bronze medal. She returned in 2001 for the Jeux de la Francophonie in Ottawa, Canada winning the 400m hurdles gold, before regaining the world champion crown at the World Championships in Edmonton, Canada the same year.
Nezha Bidouane’s final international honors came at the 2004 Pan Arab Games where she won the gold medal in her specialty, the 400m hurdles before retiring. In April 2008, she was awarded a trophy as one of the best athletes in Africa’s history and inducted into the continental Hall of Fame. She is married to Abdelaziz Sahere, a former long distance athlete with whom she has two children.
Nezha Bidouane is the founder and President of Femme, Réalisations et Valeurs (Women, Achievements, and Values), an association created to encourage women and young girls to engage in sports. She is a member of Spéciale Olympique Maroc and was appointed the spokesperson for Foundation Mohamed VI des Sportifs Champions.
Afro Tourism salutes this great athlete, Olympian, World Champion, African record holder, city icon and national heroine, and legendary Arab star, Nezha Bidouane!
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