RABAT, August 21, 2019 – “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, my competitors are so fast and so strong.” This is Nawal El Moutawakel 24 hours before becoming the first Arab African woman to win an Olympic gold medal, during the 400-meter hurdles event of the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.
Now a member of the IOC, an emotional Nawal is talking to a group of Young Reporters at a special AIPS event during the African Games currently underway in Rabat.
She recalls the day that changed her life forever. The day she inspired millions of African women athletes. During her preparation for that historic moment, Nawal says she was supported by, not only her family but also King Hassan II, who put his trust and that of the entire country on her. “Bring the gold medal and make Moroccans proud of you.”
His majesty ordered that Nawal be respected and treated very well in the Olympic village since she was the youngest and the only female. He also called her right after she crossed the finish line to give his congratulations and express his feelings. “I couldn’t believe he was awake and still watching, in that time, it was to late in Morocco,” Nawal observes. To celebrate the historical event, the King declared that all girls born on the day of her victory be named in her honor.
Her two American coaches played the main role in her success story, they worked hard to rebuild her self-confidence and were there for her – to keep everything calm and take her stress away. They taught her determination, self-esteem, self-confidence and passion. “When I felt so weak, they would ask me to sing the national anthem and I was so shy. Then to say ‘I am the best’, but I couldn’t do that with confidence. I was not able to raise my head in front of them. But finally, I stood up on a chair and believed that I can do it and I will do it.”
Many years of preparation were summarized in 54 seconds, when she crossed the finish line. Nawal cried because her father was not there to share her happiness and to see her moment of glory. “In Morocco, every thing depends on family, when my father died, it was a huge hit in my life, but I had finally decided to stay so as to achieve our dream.”
Nawal’s achievement was the breakthrough that gave Moroccan women a voice in sports. She has a powerful history of contributing to the increasing participation of women in sports. “I am very happy to emancipate African and Arab women. They all know that they can run and jump now.” Thousands of women follow in her footsteps because she is a symbol of hope and victory for them.
After the Games, Nawal El Moutawakel was reborn. “A champion should not limit himself in a stadium,” she says. She stopped her career as an athlete when she was 25 years old, though she is still active in Moroccan athletics and organises the women’s race every year in Casablanca. She was the Secretary of State to the Minister of Social Affairs and Minister of Youth and Sports. She is a member of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and a founding member of Laureus World Sports Academy.
Nawal El Moutawakel faced so many hurdles in her life, but she beat them all, learned how to stand up, how to fight and, most importantly, how to move from zero to hero. She simply aimed high and thought big!