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Olympic Running Events (I): 800 m women with Maria Mutola


In ten weeks time the Olympic Games in Athens will begin. In the coming weeks all of the eleven running events will be presented here plus a favourite for the Olympic Gold. This series starts with the 800 m women today and will end with the men’s marathon at the start of the Olympic Games.


There were no women’s events at the Olympic Games in Athens back in 1896. The first time women were allowed to compete was in 1928. And it was already then when the 800 m were run. German runner Lina Radke won the first Olympic Gold at the distance with a time of 2:16,8 minutes in Amsterdam.

Today one woman dominates the 800 metres for many years: Maria Mutola. The 31 year-old runner from Mozambique will be the big favourite when it comes to final in Athens. She is the defending Olympic Champion and the World Champion as well. Everything else than a win by Maria Mutola would be a major surprise. Once again she leads the world lists this year with a time of 1:58,49.

The only runner who was really capable of threatening Maria Mutola for some years was Stephanie Graf. But the Austrian had concluded her career a year ago. After running some brilliant races in 2002 Jolanda Ceplak was not able to come back to that sort of form last year. The Slovenian had won the European Indoors in 2002 in a world record of 1:55,82 and then ran a 1:55,19 outdoors. That is exactly the personal best of Maria Mutola as well.


With no doubt Maria Mutola is one of the greatest athletes of our time. It was already back in 1988 when the former football player ran the 800 metres at the Olympic Games. She was nearly sixteen then and ran 2:04,36 minutes. That was not enough to qualify from the first round but it earned her a grant by the Olympic Solidarity Committee. So Maria Mutola was able to go to school in Eugene (US). She then met her coach Margot Jennings who guided her into world class.

Two years later Maria Mutola won the first of a large number of gold medals at the African Championships. At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona she finished fifth and then started a tremendous win streak. Apart from a disqualification in the semi finals of the World Championships in 1995 she remained unbeaten in 50 finals. It was a great disappointment that this win streak ended in the Olympic final in 1996. Maria Mutola was third in Atlanta but four years later she finally won the Olympic Gold she deserved. Including the indoor championships she has meanwhile collected nine gold medals at World Championships.

Under enormous pressure Maria Mutola won the IAAF Golden League Jackpot last year. It was a unique success since she was the sole winner of the jackpot. Winning at the last meeting of the series in Brussels she earned one million dollars. Another of her win streaks ended this winter, when Maria Mutola clipped the heal of her British training partner Kelly Holmes and fell at an indoor meeting in Birmingham. Before she had won 22 races in a row. Together with Holmes Maria Mutola mainly trains in South Africa.

More than 160 times she ran the 800 metres in a sub two minute time. Maria Mutola has won gold medals at every event, from the African Games to the Olympics. The only thing missing is a world record. But that seems to be out of reach. It was Jarmila Kratochvilova from Czechoslovakia who ran 1:53,28 minutes back in 1983.

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