'Maputo Express' Maria Mutola gears up for Athens

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/thumbnail/ver1/M/Mariamutola.jpg' class='caption'> Maria Mutola brought Mozambique on the Olympic map for the first time with her gold-winning performance in Sydney in 2000.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:08 IST
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She's 31-years-old, the world's fastest woman over 800 metres, and the darling of her countrymen. Maria Mutola brought Mozambique on the Olympic map for the first time with her gold-winning performance in Sydney in 2000, and there's no slowing the Maputo Express as she gears up for Athens. New landmarks Maria became the first athlete last year to win the Golden League Jackpot by winning all the six races held in the calendar year, and took home a million dollars. Mutola's 27 race winning streak was only broken earlier this year at the Lausanne Super Grand Prix. But she is confident she can defend her Olympics gold. "I know that if I mess up at the Olympics or at the world championships, it's like letting your country down. There is no one else who can win gold so the people have hopes on me. So that's why I am motivated enough to keep me going," she said. Long run Known in her home-country Mozambique as the Maputo Express, Maria Mutola has come a long way. She was born in a suburb of the Mozambican capital Maputo in 1972, and made it to the big league after an athletics coach spotted her playing football on the street. He then prepared her for the Olympics in Seoul in 1988 as a 15-year-old. Maria then trained in America courtesy a scholarship by the International Olympic Committee, and has been winning races ever since. Eyeing new glory Maria has already competed in four Olympics. After finishing fifth at Barcelona, she reached her peak at the Sydney Olympics. The gold medal at the 2000 edition was Mozambique's first-ever Olympic gold. That triumph made Mutola a demi-God in Mozambique. She was given a hero's welcome when she returned home, and a street was named after her. Maria Mutola now hopes that she can win another gold at Athens and defend her world championship crown before calling it a day. But more than anything else, she is hoping she can fulfill her dream of breaking the 800-metre world record, which has stood for 21 years.

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