Mutola, Maria 1972—
Maria Mutola 1972—
Track and field athlete
Dominating her fellow runners in the middle distance events, Maria Mutola became one of the world’s most consistent winners on the women’s track and field circuit in the 1990s. She was undefeated against top international competition while maintaining an active performance schedule in her premier event, the 800-meter run, from the fall of 1992 until her fluke disqualification in the World Track and Field Championships in August of 1995. Her personal best of 1:55.19 in the 800 meters was the seventh fastest in history as of April of 1996.
One of seven children, Mutola grew up in a poor area of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Her first athletic passion was soccer, and by age 13 she was the best female player in her country. “She had the right stuff to handle herself,” said Craig T. Greenlee in Upscale- ”Speed, nifty footwork, tough mindedness and a refusal to back down from the dudes. “Mutola played on a boys’ team because there were no female soccer teams in Mozambique, but her scoring of a tying goal in the city championship led to protests by the opposing team. “They said it was a big problem to play a girl with the boys,” claimed Mutola according to Reebok, her sponsor in track and field.
While on the soccer field, Mutola’s speed and endurance were noted by José Craverinhas, Mozambique’s most renowned poet. He mentioned the athlete’s talent to his son Stelio Craverinhas, who coached the country’s top track club. When Mutola was approached to join the club, she was at first reluctant to make the shift into running-especially after her initial workouts with the team. “In soccer we used to practice four days a week,” she told Reebok. “Today practice, tomorrow a rest day. Track and field every day. I said, “Oh my God! ’ “Mutola went back to the soccer field, but Craverinhas pursued her and enticed her to return to the track. Her conversion soon paid off, as Mutola won national titles in the 400-meter and 800-meter runs and became part of the national team after just a few months of training. Two years later she won the African championships in the events.
Developing rapidly, Mutola earned a spot on Mozam-
At a Glance…
Born Maria de Lurctes Mutola, October 27, 1972, in Maputo, Mozambique, Education: Attends Lane Community College, Eugene, OR.
One of the fastest female 800-meter runners in history. Was best female soccer player in Mozambique as a youth; joined country’s leading track club as teenager; won national titles in 400-meter run and 800-meter run; competed in first Olympics, 1988; came to the United States to train, 1991; finished fourth in the 800-meter run in World Outdoor Track and Field Championships, 1991; was youngest finalist in women’s 800-meter run and 1500-meter run at Olympic Games, 1992; won 800-meter run in World Indoor Track and field Championships, 1993, 1995; won 800-meter run in World Outdoor Track and Field Championships, 1993; won 42 straight 800-meter races, 1992-95; ran seventh fastest 800-meter run (1:55.19) of all time in women’s track, 1994; set outdoor record in women’s 1000-meter run (2:29.34), 1995; set indoor record in women’s 1,000-meter run (2:32.08), 1996; holds Mozambique track records for women in every distance from 400 through 3,000 meters.
Awards: Runner-up, Women’s Athlete of the Year, Track & Field News, 1993; ranked number one in women’s 800-meter run in Track & Field News, 1993–95.
Addresses: Home —Eugene, OR. Office —Reebok International Limited, Stoughton, MA 02072.
bique’s contingent for the 1998 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She was also selected to carry her nation’s flag in the opening ceremonies. Just 15 years old, Mutola managed a highly respectable 2:04.36 time in the 800-meter heats at the Olympics, but did not make it past the opening round. By this time she was famous in her home country, and the subject of frequent articles and magazines in Mozambique and bordering South Africa.
After the Olympics Mutola went into a holding pattern for the next few years, with her yearly bests actually declining in 1989 (2:05.70) and 1990 (2:13.54). Rumors spread about her moving to Portugal to train, but instead she moved to the United States on a scholarship set up by the International Olympic Solidarity program. This program made it possible for athletes from poor countries to live in settings with better training opportunities. In May of 1991 Mutola arrived in Oregon and became a student in Springfield High School because one its teachers spoke Portuguese, her native language. Her new school was also near Eugene, site of the University of Oregon and a renowned haven for runners.
Moving to the United States proved to be a boon for Mutola’s running. During the summer of 1991 she broke every Mozambique record in distances from 400 through 3,000 meters. Since her arrangement with Olympic Solidarity banned her from prep competition, Mutola competed in meets around the United States against top international competitors. She shone in her first 800-meter race against the world’s best when she staged a come-from-behind victory in the New York Track and Field Games at Columbia University’s Wein Stadium in July, in a time of 2:00.22. A stress fracture hindered her in the 1991 World Track and Field Championships, but she still managed to finish fourth in a junior world-record time of 1:57.63.
At the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Mutola turned in solid fifth-place and ninth-place finishes in the finals of the 800-meter run and 1500-meter run, respectively. Nineteen years old at the time, she was the youngest finalist in both events. After a loss in a meet in September in Berlin to Olympic champion Ellen van Langen, she began her incredible streak of victories in the 800 meters that spanned over 40 races in almost three years. Many high points marked her 1993 season, both indoors and out. She placed first in the 800 meters in the World Indoor Track and Field Championships that year in a time of 1:57.55, then ran the fastest 800-meter time ever in the United States outdoors (1:56.56) in her return to the Reebok New York Games. She confirmed her domination by beating the world’s best with a blazing 1:55.43 in the 1993 World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. The second place finisher clocked in at 1.67 seconds behind, making Mutola’s margin of victory the largest in any world championship or Olympic final. For the year she broke the 1:57 barrier five times, more than twice as often as any other female runner.
When Track & Field News named Mutola as the top women’s 800-meter runner for 1993, the 21-year-old athlete became the second-youngest ever to be so honored in the event. Mutola stayed in the fast lane the next year, hitting another high point in the Weltklasse meet in Zurich, Switzerland, with a victory time of 1:55.19. Her mark in the race was the fastest for that distance in five years, and the seventh fastest of all time. Once again in 1994 she was designated the world’s top runner in the 800 meters by Track & Field News. The magazine also rated her as the number two female track athlete overall for the year.
Continuing to build on her unbeaten string in 1995, Mutola won by a margin of over two seconds in the World Indoor Track and Field Championships at Barcelona. She also produced the world’s fastest time for a woman at 1500 meters (4:01.6) in her only attempt at the distance for the year. Her winning streak came to an unexpected end in the World Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Goteborg, Sweden, When she ran outside her lane in a semifinal heat and was disqualified. The eventual victor, Ana Quirot of Cuba, had lost to Mutola in a race in Monaco two weeks before the championships. Despite this setback, Mutola’s domination during the year earned her a third consecutive number-one ranking in her event.
Continuing to show that she was equally invincible indoors and out, Mutola set a new world’s record in the 1000-meter run in Birmingham, England, in February of 1996. Her time of 2:32.08 took nearly two seconds off the previous best mark, which had been set 18 years earlier. “I think I can break it again,” said Mutola after the race, according to Track & Field News. Eight days later in a meet in Liévin, France, she followed up this performance with the second fastest 800 meters ever run indoors (1:57.13). Around this time she also announced her intention to run both the 800 meters and 1500 meters in the upcoming Olympic Games to be held in Atlanta, Georgia. “It will be hard, but l’ve been doing longer distances this winter in preparation,” she told Track & Field News about her plan in the April 1996 issue. At just 23 years old, Maria Mutola has already secured a spot for herself in the Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Everybody’s: The Caribbean-American Magazine, July 31, 1993, p. 26.
New York Times, February 27, 1993, p. 32; February 11, 1996, p.SlO.
Track & Field News, February 1994, pp. 8, 21; May 1995, p. 33; October 1995, p. 31; December 1995, p. 38; January 1996, p. 10, 44; April 1996, p. 25.
Upscale, December/January 1995, pp. 104, 125.
Weekly Journal, August 5, 1993, p. 16.
Other information for this profile was obtained from Reebok International Limited publicity materials.