Maria de Lurdes Mutola – WOMAN of ACTION™

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A Celebration of Women™

is elated to Celebrate the Life of this athlete, a woman that has devoted her life to her Lurdes Mutola Foundation that aims to bring more young Mozambicans to sport and to assist in helping them achieve their sporting and educational potential. She also devoted much of her time contributing to the awareness of HIV/AIDS, working to awaken the youth of our world. Her positive action has changed the lives of many youth.



   Maria de Lurdes Mutola

Maria de Lurdes Mutola


Maria de Lurdes Mutola (born October 27, 1972) is a retired female athlete from Mozambique who has specialized in the 800 m. She was born in Maputo, hence the nickname of “The Maputo Express“. She is the fourth track & field athlete to compete at six Olympic Games. She is a three-time world champion in this event and a one-time Olympic Champion. 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 organize 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.

At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona there were great hopes for Mutola to win Mozambique’s first Olympic medal. She ran strongly but faded badly in the home straight, eventually finishing fifth behind eventual winner Ellen van Langen. At the same Games, Mutola ran her only 1500m at an international championship, placing 9th in the final.

She also won the IAAF World Cup 800m and was the only person to beat Ellen van Langen throughout the whole year.

Athletic domination Over the next few years, Mutola dominated the 800m event, winning the 800 m title at the 1993 and 1995 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Athletics and the 1993 IAAF World Championships in Athletics. At the latter event, held in Stuttgart she won by over two seconds, the biggest ever winning margin in an international women’s 800m final. A favourite for the world outdoor title in 1995 as well, she was disqualified in her semi final for stepping outside of her lane. Some consolation came at the Memorial van Damme meeting a few weeks after the championships, when she broke the world record for 1000 m, becoming the first woman ever to run the distance in less than two and a half minutes. She also went on to break the world indoor record for 1000 m.

south-africa-mapHer immense success and her total domination of the event during this period can be attributed to the guidance that she has received since 1991 from Margo Jennings. Jennings was a track coach at Springfield High School and continued to coach Mutola, even when she had relocated from Oregon to Johannesburg to escape the high pollen count. Jennings faxes Mutola’s training schedules to her in South Africa, and has also coached other world class 800m runners like Kelly Holmes, Namibian athlete Agnes Samaria and Tina Paulino, who is actually a distant relative of Mutola’s. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Mutola was a hot favourite for the gold, as she hadn’t been beaten in an 800m final since 1992 and her winning streak stretched to over forty 800m and 1000m finals.

However, suffering from the flu, she ended up finishing third behind Svetlana Masterkova and Ana Quirot. Later in 1996 Mutola lost her world 1000 m record to Masterkova. Her appearance at the 2008 Olympics made her only the fourth Track & Field athlete to compete at six Olympics, after Lia Manoliu (discus), Tessa Sanderson (javelin/heptathlon), and seven-time Olympian Merlene Ottey (sprints). Angolan middle/long-distance runner João N’Tyamba also made his sixth Olympic appearance in 2008.

Status in 800 m race history

Mutola is often ranked as the greatest female 800 m runner of all time. She has not gained a world record, but her consistency, her record at major championships and her ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport for well over a decade are unmatched. (The 2008 Olympics were her sixth successive Olympics.) Mutola won bronze in the 1997 IAAF World Championships in Athletics and silver in 1999. She also won the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Athletics in 1997, only weeks after her father had been killed in a car accident. She raced wearing a black ribbon and dedicated the victory to his memory.

In total she has won nine world 800 m titles, including both indoor and outdoor championships. She won the Commonwealth Games twice, after Mozambique was admitted to the Commonwealth in 1995, and has also won the IAAF World Cup event, representing the Africa team, four times consecutively. Her greatest moment, though, came at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, when Mutola finally won Olympic gold.

She beat her major rival Stephanie Graf and Kelly Holmes.

Maria_Mutola_Valence_2008_croppedShe returned to Mozambique after her Olympic victory, huge crowds came to cheer her and a road was named after her in Maputo. She continued her successes in the 2001 season, grabbing the world title in Edmonton and again in 2003 in Paris.

It was widely felt that Mutola ran tactically during the 2003 race by setting a slow pace in order to aid her training partner Kelly Holmes.

As a result of such a strategy Holmes was able to take silver. Mutola was unbeaten throughout 2003 and grabbed the headlines again that year, at the Memorial van Damme race in Belgium. By winning here, it meant that she became sole winner of the IAAF one million dollar jackpot, awarded to athletes who remained undefeated during the IAAF Golden League series of competitions. She put part of her winnings towards the foundation that she had established in her name in Mozambique. Aiming to become the first woman to successfully defend the Olympic 800 m title in 2004, her fifth Olympics, Mutola ended up finishing fourth, and out of the medals.

Despite carrying a hamstring injury, Mutola was in the gold medal position until the final few metres, when three athletes passed her, including the eventual champion, her former training partner Kelly Holmes.

In 2005 her injuries were still lingering and she suffered several losses to opponents she would normally easily beat. She parted amicably with her coach Margo Jennings, before returning to good form in 2006, when she won the World Indoor title for a record seventh time.

At the 2007 IAAF World Championships, Mutola was in contention for a medal entering into the home straight, but pulled out of the race in the dying metres.

In 2008, the 800 metres African record held by Mutola, was beaten by the young Pamela Jelimo of Kenya. Mutola had decided that the 2008 Olympic Games would be her last major championships, and she finished fifth in the 800 metres Olympic final. She publicly called an end to her 21-year long athletics career at the Weltklasse Zürich meeting immediately after the Olympics. She finished fourth with a run of 1:58.71 in the 800 m, again behind Jelimo, who completed a symbolic feat by beating Mutola’s meet record which had stood since 1994.

FLM Photo Video

Other work – philanthropy

Grupo_Desportivo_de_MaputoShe was appointed an honorary United Nations youth ambassador in 2003 at a ceremony in Maputo, in recognition of her outstanding athletic achievements. Other youth ambassadors are musician Baaba Maal and basketball star Dikembe Mutombo.

She cited the importance of raising awareness of HIV/AIDS issues amongst young people in Africa and also highlighted the benefits that sport can bring to young people.

Indeed, her Lurdes Mutola Foundation aims to bring more young Mozambicans to sport and to assist in helping them achieve their sporting and educational potential. Other initiatives that Mutola and her Foundation have been involved in include a Ministry of Health / UNICEF immunization campaign against measles and polio and housing development initiatives in Maputo. Even before the establishment of the Foundation, she had played an active role in supporting sport in Maputo. She gave financial support that allowed an artificial track to be constructed on the sports ground at which she had originally trained as a fifteen-year old.

She also authorized the sale of t-shirts that featured her image, profits from which went towards helping the Grupo Desportivo de Maputo out of financial difficulty. At the 2006 Winter Olympics she was one of the eight Olympic flag bearers at the Opening Ceremony.

Below are some pictures from this month’s meeting with the coaches from the Lurdes Mutola Foundation:

Maria foundation student_portraits.wide

Gender struggles… words from on blogger that meets with Lurdes Mutola Foundation

So… my early assessment is that the push to recruit female head coaches, and subsequently female athletes, for the Lurdes Mutola Foundation’s soccer program has largely been a FAILURE! 🙁 Four months after the initial training by the foundation, only 1 female coach is still actively coming to our monthly coaches meetings and even she has relinquished most of her coaching responsibilities to a local male counterpart because the young male players (the female players aren’t being allowed to come out/ just aren’t coming out) won’t listen to her. As for the other 3? No one seems to exactly know what they did with the balls and…. the women themselves have sort of vanished… humm!?!

maria 2010Orlando Francisco, another coach from Vehiua, with attitude that Tyra would even love 😉

That’s not to say there haven’t been small steps in the process though. Although many people/families are refusing to let their children, especially the young girls, play, several areas with male coaches have female or coed teams that regularly meet and play.

There are a lot of issues at hand… the traditional division of labor resulting in girls being expected to be very accomplished at domestic work, girls having a perceived risk of being taken advantage of sexuality by unknown male adults, girls not having/not being permitted to wear the proper sports attire (shorts, bra, shoes, etc), the list goes on and on…

As a male, I find myself in a unique position to help battle as an ally for gender equality here in Nauela by speaking to the other male leaders, but it’s definitely a process. Traditional beliefs, held by both genders, and educational gaps don’t go away over night. Indeed, even when working with the new generation of females, I know that no matter how hard I push them, their reality is very different than mine and I’m just a small instant in their lives. Their decisions that I influence will have lasting impacts on their lives that will likely reach far beyond my short stay here (ie – family and community support, educational opportunities, marriage prospects, etc), while what I do or say has very little risk on those areas for me. So I need to be sensitive to that and not make someone act in such a rebellious way that would push them too far outside societal norms for fear of ostracism.

maria coachesA group shot of the Lurdes Mutola coaches from one of the previous month’s meetings

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was in Mulevala a few weeks ago for the natural medicine training (***Side note – I just updated my last blog post with pictures at the end if you wanna go back and check it out) alongside 7 other female PCVs. Although I never thought about it till then, it took me coming to a rural village in the middle of Africa to finally find myself the noticeable minority! (Even though I am the only white person in Nauela, it’s not too noticeable because people generally treat me better because of it…) To say the least, it was a rough, eye opening time. Although I definitely enjoyed the week as a whole, sometimes I felt ganged up on, left out, and rather marginalized… and this was all from interactions with friends nonetheless! (Before I go on, I want to make sure that you understand that a lot of it wasn’t intentional or even centered on my gender, but gender was always a factor and the experience was eye opening none the less.)

In a world that is largely run by men, is this how women always feel? I hope not!… but I have a creeping feeling it sadly just might be…

maria foundation CompositeAs I discovered, gender norms can be a sensitive subject because it can quickly become an “Us” versus “Them” discussion/debate with everyone jumping on the defense for their own “side.”

Trying to remove myself from my “side,” I like to say that when interacting with people around me I don’t see “male” or “female”, “black”, “white”, or “Hispanic”… I just see that person for who they are. But I’ve come to realize that point of view in itself is a little elitist. I’m unaware of those things because I’m typically put in situations where I am in the majority seat and don’t have to be aware/suspicious of the little nuances that occur from day to day. I need to start realizing that this isn’t the case for everyone and do something about it!

So where does these realizations and new mindset take me? I’m still exploring that. I know that I can’t just continue on as before as if I learned nothing, but I also don’t believe I should try to dissect and analyze every social situation based on gender, race, sexual orientation, etc… for me, I think that’d make me too worried, uptight, and not as loving… so maybe somewhere in between :/ Luckily, I’ve made a lot of great PC friends here in Mozambique who have been/are willing to talk to me about all this and I’m really grateful for their patience and love 🙂

Thinking back on how this all plays out in a Mozambican setting like Nauela, it’s very apparent there’s a lot of progress yet to be made. I have hopes that the area residents will expand their traditionally narrow views on gender roles in the years to come. While the governmental institutions are already paying gender equality homage with their mouths… maybe someday in the near future people will start doing it with their actions.
After retiring from athletics she returned to her first sporting love, football.

Maria-Mutola14She played for Mamelodi Sundowns team in the South African women’s league.

Maria Mutola, 37-years-old, dominated the women’s 800-meter, middle-distance running for over a decade.

She has eleven world championship titles and an Olympic gold medal before she retired from running. She was the fourth Track & Field athlete to compete at six Olympics. Her retirement was cut short, by surprise, when she decided to pursue her long time love of football.

It was a surprise,” she said in an interview with “I wasn’t looking to play football. I brought a friend here to South Africa from Mozambique to look for a football team. And I ended up playing.”

It was a move that has satisfied her competitive streak and allowed her to utilize her speed and athleticism. She was the leading scorer this season on her team. She has always been an achiever, rather on the track, on the feild or in her personal life.

“My career was very nice,” she said. “I don’t think there is anything I’d like to change apart from staying a little bit longer winning medals for my country and myself. I think I had a wonderful career. I’m very, very happy.”

In 2011 she was captain of the Mozambique national soccer team at the All-Africa Games in Maputo. In 2012 she coached South African runner Caster Semenya to a silver medal at the Olympic Games in London.

Best times 200 m 23.86 400 m 51.37 800 m 1:55.19 1000 m 2:29.34 1500 m 4:01.50 3000 m 9:27.37 5000 m 18:15.10 800 m honours Olympic Games: 1988 first round; 1992 5th and 9th 1500 m; 1996 3rd; 2000 1st; 2004 4th; 2008 5th World Championships: 1991 4th; 1993 1st; 1995 disqualified semi final; 1997 3rd; 1999 2nd; 2001 1st; 2003 1st, 2005 4th, 2007 Did not Finish Final World Indoor Championships: 1993 1st; 1995 1st; 1997 1st; 1999 2nd; 2001 1st; 2003 1st; 2004 1st; 2006 1st; 2007 3rd World Cup: 1992 1st and 3rd 4×400 m Relay; 1994 1st; 1998 1st; 2002 1st and 4th 4×400 m Relay All-Africa Games: 1991 1st; 1995 1st; 1999 1st African Championships: 1988 2nd; 1990 1st and 1st 1500 m; 1993 1st; 1998 1st; 2002 1st; 2006 2nd; 2008 2nd Commonwealth Games: 1998 1st; 2002 1st; 2006 3rd


In This Photo: Junior SeauMike VrabelMaria de Lurdes Mutola Mike Vrabel #50 of the New England Patriots celebrates after a recovering a fumble against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium game on January 12, 2008 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.




A Celebration of Women™

welcomes this woman into our global Alumni with open arms, celebrating her efforts for the awareness of HIV and her passion for elevating the quality of life for all youth.


Brava Maria!


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