Even John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with their greatest ballads for The Beatles, probably never tugged at Maurren Maggi’s heartstrings as much as her three-year-old daughter tugged at hers as she was leaving for the Olympics.
“She said she didn’t want me to go away,” Maggi recalled of young Sophia last night after becoming the Olympic women’s Long Jump champion. Then, fighting back the tears, the 32-year-old Brazilian added: “I just told her I was searching for a medal and she said: ‘Mum you don’t need a medal, you have me’.”
What have The Beatles – an English pop group from the 1960s - got to do with it? They played their part in the naming of Maurren. Her first name should have been Maureen, chosen by her father because he was a big fan of the group, but an error was made in the spelling of her name on the birth certificate.
“Ringo Starr had a wife whose name was Maureen,” Nelio Moura, Maggi’s coach explained while his athlete celebrated victory in her first Olympic final. Starr was the drummer whose real name was Richard Starkey. His first wife was Maureen Starkey “Maurren loves The Beatles too and knows how to play some of their music on the piano,” Moura added.
So, to borrow from a famous Beatles number, it has been a long and winding road for Maggi. She burst onto the international scene in 1999, winning the Long Jump at the South American Championships and the Pan-Am Games in the same season. She was also an accomplished hurdler, taking gold in the South American Championships and silver at the Pan-Am Games.
As the 2000 Sydney Olympics approached, Maggi was among the favourites for a medal in the Long Jump but she was injured in the qualifying round and had to withdraw. In 2002, she enjoyed her best season up to 2008, winning at the Ibero-American Championships, taking the IAAF Grand Prix title, and finishing second in the World Cup.
In 2003, Maggi became Brazil’s first medallist at a World Championships, taking indoor bronze in Birmingham, England. During this period in her life she held simultaneously the South American records for the Long Jump, Triple Jump and 100m Hurdles. But, in June 2003, Maggi failed a drugs test and was banned for two years.
Eighteen months later Maggi married the Formula 1 racing driver, Antonio Pizzonia, by whom she had Sophia, but their marriage was short lived. She returned to competition in 2006 and repeated former glories by winning Long Jump gold medals at the South American Championships and Pan-Am Games.
In the meantime, Maggi kept believing, kept telling herself that Germany’s Heike Dreschler was 35 when she won the Long Jump in Sydney. At 32, Maggi knew she was not too old. Far from it, in fact, because the 2012 Olympics in London are already part of her planning.
Maggi argued that her positive drugs test was caused by hair removal cream. “It was an accident because of the cream I put on through my vanity,” she said last night. “I love make-up, and going to the beauty shops, and I was unable to compete for two years.
“After two and a half to three years I thought: ‘I still have something I have to do’. I was born to do this and track and field is the only thing I have ever done. But I didn’t think I would reach as high as an Olympic gold medal. Today I can be a clean mirror for Brazil.”
Now that Maggi has one gold medal, she wants two. “I came here thinking about London in 2012 already,” she said. “I am already dreaming of retaining my Championship in London, or just competing there. I am going to do everything I can to be in London.”
That’s London, England. England - home of The Beatles. England - where Maurren is spelt Maureen.
David Powell for the IAAF