When Maria Mutola won her first indoor title in 1993, runner-up Kenia Sinclair (JAM) was not yet a teenager. Hasna Benhassi (MAR), the bronze medallist here, was barely into her teens. 13 years later, the pair are world class athletes, but are still chasing the Mozambican legend. This weekend in Moscow, they watched as Mutola powered her way to a fourth consecutive World Indoor title, and a nearly unbelievable seventh overall.
Yet despite her pedigree as the world’s finest 800 metre runner, many felt that Mutola, who missed the podium at the 2004 Olympic Games and at last year’s World Championships in Helsinki, had seen her best days go by. With a brilliant display of tactical racing, Mutola quickly and powerfully dispelled those doubts.
“To me this win means a lot because it proves that once again I’m still there. With the problems I had, I tried, I tried to run good, but I just couldn’t. But it’s good to know that when I’m healthy I can still run like I used to.”
Slowed by injuries the past two seasons, many doubted that at 33 and after having achieved so much, that she would have the motivation and that her body would have the ability to come back. But those were doubts that Mutola didn’t share.
She did have fears early in the season that she wouldn’t be fully prepared to defend her title, particularly after sustaining a minor injury in Birmingham. But after a 2:00.81 performance in Gent three weeks ago, Mutola said that her training had begun to “come together.”
“After Gent, I began to think that I could run well in Moscow.”
Her confidence was further raised after watching yesterday’s semi-finals.
“Yesterday, watching the semis is when I actually got a little encouraged that I could do something because it wasn’t very fast. I thought the final would be just a little under two minutes. If I would have to run 1:55 or 1:56 it would be a different story.”
But it wasn’t, despite the sizzling performances turned in by the top crop of Russians who had prepared diligently for their outing on home soil. Mutola confirmed that they were clearly the women to beat.
“I didn’t put myself down,” she said, “but looking realistically, they were running very fast, with the fastest times in the world. Plus running here in Moscow was another downside for the rest of us.”
But in the end, nobody on the fast Moscow track could predict what Mutola would pull from her deep bag of tricks. The first was her quick decision to take the lead from the gun. The next came when she matched and answered each move made by World leader Olga Kotlyarova, eventually running the Russian star into the ground. She had plenty of others in reserve, but Mutola is not one to look back, not even to a race that had concluded just minutes before. She continues to look ahead, and readily admits that her Moscow win will provide the motivation to begin the next phase of her storied career.
“The injuries set me back. I had been struggling, trying to come back. It wasn’t easy. But now I can feel my body again and that gives me motivation for next season, and maybe even for the next Olympic Games.”
In short, Mutola proved in Moscow that she hasn’t really gone away. And that she’s planning on sticking around for a long time.
“I know that one day when I wake up and decide that I don’t want to do this anymore because my body will say no, that I will actually quit. But at the moment I know that everything is going well.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF