Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mozambique Great Maria Mutola on Farewell Tour

Maria Mutola celebrates as she crosses the finish line to win the Olympic women's 800m gold medal in Sydney.

Living up to great expectations.

The upcoming World Indoor Track meet in Valencia, Spain will be Maria Mutola’s last indoor meet. She formally announced last month that she is retiring at the outdoor season’s end and will focus on her foundation. The retirement announcement early in the year allows fans an opportunity to enjoy this living legend’s last season.

Maria is a great person, and not because she’s the fastest or strongest. The fact she made it this far in life is a victory in itself. Her resolve was tested long before the fame began. In the 1970’s, she faced life in an impoverished suburb in the Mozambique capital Maputo during a 17-year stretch of war and poverty.

The international work by Mozambique’s first Olympic champion is just as impressive as her athletic feats. Through her charitable foundation in Mozambique, Maria has worked with the United Nations on HIV/AIDS awareness and the necessity of immunization in her home country.

Mutola is a pioneer having changed the women's 800-meters since her arrival on the international circuit 20 years ago, at the age of 14. Maria is known for a fast pace and a monstrous kick over the last 200 meters. She has been a contender in every championship race over the past twenty years, winning nine world titles and running in five Olympics.

It’s great to see her leave at the top of her game and on her own terms. But as anyone following her career would know, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Three times this year, Mutola has dipped below 2:00 minutes at 800-meters and won her three outings.

While Mutola isn’t the favorite going into Valencia, don’t count her out. The 2000 Olympic 800-meter champion has a huge heart and is a fierce indoors 800-meter runner having won a world indoor title seven times, the last in 2006.

It’s sad to lose one of track’s most dominant and recognizable stars. It’s been an honor to watch her career. Maria has assembled an incomparable body of work over her 20-year career, and we hope that she goes out in a blaze of glory, just like she when arrived.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

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