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FIRST AFRICAN STEPS/ LOS ANGELES 1996 / NAWAL El MOUTAWAKEL: Africa’s first lady

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It all went very fast for the beautiful Moroccan. As she was the leader in the sprint in her country at a very young age, Nawal El Moutawakel, decided, in 1981,after advice from Jean-François Coquard, a French trainer, to start practicing the 400m hurdles. The results paid off. After some months of training, she recorded 56”23. A performance which served more than an encouragement. However, it was at the United Staes that she travelled to continue her university sports education, where she made a remarkable progress. On the eve of the Los Angeles Olympics, her best time was 55”37. A very honourable performance, however far from making her one of the favourites of the competition. Signs from the gods, the Sovietists, Ponomarova and Flipishina who were tipped as favourites could not make it because of a decision to boycott the games by the socialist Russia. Meanwhile, during the first days in Los Angeles, Nawal started slowly. Neither during the series, third time behind Skoglund and Usha, nor at the semis, did she sound confident. To some observers, especially Moroccans, a place at the finals was already a good performance. But the young Bidaouie (21 years) did not give an ear to that. In the final and decisive race, she took off from the starting block like an arrow. She speeded well that almost three quarters into the race, she though she had a false start that was not signaled. When she turned behind, she saw America’s Brown and Roumania’s Cojocaru, a far distance back away from her. She understood that she was not dreaming and that she really had it in her pocket. She gave a final push and crossed the finish line in 54”61.New African record. El Moutawakel became the first Arab and African woman to win an Olympic medal. The achievement was great and the event memorable.. With tears in her eyes, she waved the applauding crowd and covered herself with the Moroccan flag to honour her country. There was henceforth a before and an after Nawal El Moutawakel in Morocco’s female sport. For Africa and the Arab world, she became a symbol of for the female gender. Profile Nawal El Moutawakel Born in1963 inCasablanca, Morocco Specialty: 400 m hurdles Record: Medals: Olympic Champion in 1984, African Champion in 1982, 1984 and 1985

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