Monte CarloAs the 12th edition of the IAAF World Indoor Championships approaches, Maria Mutola, the most decorated athlete in the history of this competition has set her training base in Valencia since last 12 February in her build-up towards what could be her 8th World Indoor gold medal.
“Being in the venue of this major event with plenty of time is a way of putting pressure on my shoulders,” says Mutola upon her arrival in this Mediterranean Spanish city.
The 800m living legend has already no less than seven World titles on the boards under her belt but, already 35 years of age, she is still confident of increasing her stunning tally.
“My training is going well, I have managed to dip under 2:00 twice this indoor season, have won my three outings (Stuttgart, Karlsruhe and Stockholm) and look forward to competing in Valencia aiming for what would be my eighth crown.”
Asked whether she would sign for a silver medal Mutola is adamant.
“Definately not, my ultimate goals in athletics are the Valencia World Indoors and the Beijing Olympics gold medals. Right now I only think of defending my title in Valencia. Should I be successful I would dedicate my win to those people who have always believed in me despite a bad string of injuries I have been struggling with over the last seasons.”
Very keen on Valencia
A former Olympic champion in Sidney 2000, Mutola has often visited the city which hosts the World Indoor championships.
“I first came to Valencia some years ago when I enjoyed a training camp and I liked it a lot as it’s a really lovely place and very suitable for training. In addition it’s a pleasant weather in winter, there are fine facilities both indoors and outdoors and everything is close. I chose Valencia nearly every year to make my preparations.”
Regarding the city Mutola confesses that “whenever I stay in Valencia my focus is to train hard so I don’t know many places apart from the sports facilities but I went shopping in the city centre two years ago and I enjoyed so much” before adding: “of course I tried the world-famous paella rice and I really like it.”
Mutola also feels very comfortable on Spanish ground thanks to her fine command of the Spanish language.
“I’m not fluent in Spanish, it would be more accurate to say that I understand Spanish since I speak Portuguese as my mother tongue and also due to my frequent stays in Valencia and Barcelona.”
Capacity crowd arena awaits her
After being informed that the Worlds will be a sold-out event the Mozambiquean star exclaims.
“That’s big news and good for the sport. It’s always nice and exciting to perform in front of a capacity crowd stadium.”
On her toughest rivals she will take on at the “Palau Velòdromo Lluis Puig” Mutola tips the Russian athletes as the main danger.
“They have clocked fast times and should be the women to beat but you can never relax at a major Championships as any athlete can defeat you. Spain’s Mayte Martínez will be a stiff rival for sure; she’s in good form and will have the home crowd cheering for her.”
The 800m World indoor title defender hesitates for a while when asked who has been her toughest opponent throughout her career.
“I have had plenty of powerful and hard to beat rivals but I would name Cuba’s Ana Fidelia Quirot as the number one on that list, I have always felt a great respect for her.”
Valencia’s would not be the first major event won by Mutola in Spain as she was a commanding victor 13 years ago at the World indoors held in Barcelona.
“I keep a nice memory since, still 19, I could not make the final at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and was eager to return to that city to win the gold medal and I did it, happily.”
Mutola’s background suggests that the indoor tracks suit her best. “I enjoy competing indoors because it’s much more difficult than outdoors. To overtake the others you have to make your move at the right time, there is no room for mistake. To deliver an intelligent tactic is vital to succeed indoors,” concludes a knowledgeable Mutola.
Farewell at the end of the season “100% sure”
On a statistical note, Mutola joined the Master category last 27 October when she turned 35 but she laughingly comments: “Frankly, I don’t think of that. The only important thing for me is to reach the goals I have set in Valencia and Beijing. I believe 35 is a perfect age to say at the end of the season, “OK, time to get off”.
“Possibly I will compete a few times at the permits scheduled after the Olympics but my decision to retire from athletics is adamant. That will be the right moment to dedicate more time to my Foundation in Mozambique and the young athletes of my country,” concludes a proud Mutola, who brought home Mozambique’s first ever Olympic gold in Sidney 2000.
Julio Fontan and Emeterio Valiente for the IAAF