When the women’s 400 m hurdles was first held at the 1983 World Championships, Nawal El-Moutawakel was eliminated in the semi-finals, seconds slower than the eventual medallists from the Soviet Union and East Germany.
All that changed when Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel shaved 0.76 seconds from her personal best at the 400m hurdles to beat the favourite in 1984, no woman had ever won a gold medal at the Olympic games. .
She became not only the first Muslim woman but also the first african woman athlete to take gold at the Olympics.
“King Hassan II called me right after I crossed the finish line,” remembers el-Moutawakel. “Someone took me into a special room and said ‘The King is on the phone.’ He said: ‘I am so proud of you. The entire country is going wild.
This victory has made us all so happy and proud of you.’ I was speechless. I couldn’t believe he was awake and watching. It was in the early hours in Morocco.” To celebrate, he declared that every girl born that day should be called Nawal.
In 2007 El Moutawakel was named Minister for Youth and Sports by King Mohammed VI in her native Morocco, where she has consistently widened the parameters for women through sport.
“Sport has given me so much that whatever I give back it will never be enough,” Nine years ago she organised the first Moroccan women’s 10 km race through the streets of Casablanca. It now attracts more than 27,000 participants annually.
She is also a member of the International Olympic Committee and was president of the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2012 Games – one of those who helped make the decision about London’s validity to be the host nation.