The man who discovered the athlete in Maria Mutola is a poet and he once described the legendary 800M runner as a living poem.
Jose Cravierinha, perhaps, was referring to the way Mutola shaped her career, overcoming hardships and battling odds along the way to realising her potential.
Hailing from humble background in her native Mozambique, it was quite a journey for Mutola -- competing in six Olympic Games in itself is an achievement and applying gloss to it is her spectacular success stories -- one Olympic gold, three world outdoor titles, seven world indoor titles and two Commonwealth Games gold medals.
As she herself says, the Olympic gold was the crowning glory of her career and when visuals of that race at the Sydney Olympics came on the screen at a press conference here on Thursday, an unmistakable sense of pride flashed through her chiselled face.
“Looking back at all that I have achieved so far, I have to say the Sydney Olympics stands out. As an athlete you know you are at the top of your game when you have won everything and the Olympic gold was missing from my list,” said Mutola, who is here as the event ambassador of the TCS World 10K.
Sydney was Mutola’s fourth Olympic Games. Having started out her career as a wide-eyed 15-year-old in Seoul 1988, a sense of frustration was creeping in by the time the Games came along, with golden glow lacking.
“I went to Atlanta (1996) and won bronze and it wasn’t the same because I had won both the indoor and outdoor world championships but never the Olympic gold. It was very important for me to win in Sydney so watching that race again is very emotional as I was the first one from my country to win an Olympic gold,” said the 40-year-old.
Mutola, who quit track and field after the Beijing Games in 2008, now coaches South African Caster Semenya and has big dreams for the 22-year-old.
“So far things are working very well for us. Her goal is to win gold in the Olympics and mine is to guide her through. In the London Games tactically things didn’t go exactly as we had planned. She let the gap to grow between her and the leaders but was able to sprint in the last 100M and win silver which was really crazy. Coaching her is easy as we communicate well and we run the same distance and we share the goal of wanting to succeed in life.”
Mutola stressed the need for a proper programme if India were to produce champion athletes. “They have to believe in themselves and they have to set their goals. It’s very important to have good coaching and good programmes to succeed,” she said, and pointed out that after the euphoria generated by her Olympic medal, things haven’t quite worked according to plan in Mozambique.
Mutola, who started out as a swimmer and then turned to football before Cravierinha spotted her talent and took the initiative to send her to the United States on a scholarship, still has the passion for the game. A follower of Lionel Messi and Barcelona, she however would prefer athletics over soccer any day.
“I don’t think I’ll be an Olympic or world champion in football. It takes a team. Winning individual medals is about you and you only,” she said.
“It’s amazing, you needn’t depend on anybody to pass or score a goal. You can spend all your years to prepare yourself for glory.”