Maria Mutola is positioned (middle row) fourth from the left© Sundowns MediaAuthor: Dumisani KoyanaWhat are the odds of achieving success in more than one sport? Well, not every athlete is an all-round competitor, and not every athlete has the mental fortitude to excel in more than one sporting code. Except if you are called, Maria de Lurdes Mutola.The Mozambican 800m ace was a golden joy to behold on the track. An Olympic gold medalist, three outdoor world championship golds, seven indoor world championship golds, several continental gold medals and countless golden league victories meant Maria ‘Maputo Express’ Mutola was a class act throughout her illustrious career.

She is also the only athlete ever to have won Olympic, World, World indoor, Commonwealth Games, Continental Games and Continental Championships titles in the same running event. Simply put, the Maputo Express is one of the greatest 800m runners to ever grace our planet. Incredibly, she is one of few selected athletes to have participated in six summer Olympic Games.

After hanging up her spikes at the age of 35 years old, the three-time world champion re-invented herself as a footballer and played for Mamelodi Sundowns Ladies (2010 – 2013), as well as captained the Mozambique Women's National Football Team at the 2011 All-Africa Games in her home town of Maputo.
The three-time world champion spoke on how she achieved the rare and incredible feat of plying her trade in two entirely different sports, “Football was my first sporting love and it was the game that got me my lucky break. I was noticed by Mozambican poet and journalist Jose Craveirinha while I was sprinting on a football field. He was impressed by my ball control and was even more impressed by my speed while playing with boys. That was how I got into athletics and I never looked back. After retiring from the track, it was an easy decision to return to my first love, which was football.”

Mutola also indicated that her entire life revolved around sport “Growing up as a child, I have always been drawn to sports. I was into swimming until the age of six, took up football after that, and switched to the athletics track, which brought me unparalleled success. I got back to football after retirement and I have become a coach, mentor and a big advocate of women in sports.”

At Mamelodi Sundowns, Mutola showed her class on several occasions. The track legend was part of the Ladies' team that clinched the 2013 SASOL National championships. Mutola famously slotted a 58th-minute penalty as The Brazilians registered a 2-0 win over Limpopo-based Ma-Indies Ladies in a hard-fought final.

The 800m star spoke about some of her favourite moments while playing for Banyana Ba Style as a striker, “Every second I spent with the Brazilians was exciting and memorable. Although women’s football was not so popular during my playing days, Sundowns kept on looking after its players and that is how the foundation for success was laid.”

Coach Jerry ‘Kappa’ Tshabalala spoke on Mutola’s time at Sundowns, “Mutola was a true professional who adapted quite easily to the rigours of playing football. She was great on the ball and was a ruthless weapon in the final third. Despite her legendary achievements on the track, she displayed utmost humility and professionalism while at the club.”

Mutola’s first formal coaching job came in 2011 when she was hired by mentee Caster Semenya ahead of the 2012 Olympics in London. The South African clinched gold in the event and like her mentor, went on to become a legend in the 800m discipline.

Mutola spoke on some of the attributes of Caster, “She is one of the most professional athletes I have ever come across in my lifetime. Her dedication, determination and commitment to the sport are admirable. Despite going through a lot, she has remained a fighter and I am proud to be associated with the success story of one of the greatest female athletes of all time.”

As a proud Mozambican, Maria spoke on the joy of being an African, “Africa is a unique continent thanks to our distinct cultures, a show of respect and love for humanity. Despite travelling around the world during my professional career, the continent of Africa remains my home. As Africans, we must strive to improve our continent because there is no place like home. The spirit of Ubuntu resides in Africa; that is what excites me the most.”
Maria Mutola also gave some quick facts about herself:
Greatest source of inspiration
My father was a great source of inspiration for me. He always backed my career choices and I made him proud.
Biggest wish
I wish I broke the world record in the 800m event. Nevertheless, I am proud of my achievements throughout my career.
Favourite quote to youngsters
Believe in yourself and live life to the fullest.
Tips for athletes ahead of major tournaments
Live a healthy life by training consistently and following the right diet to prepare your body to compete.
The most iconic moment of her career
It was when I clinched the gold medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney. I beat Stephanie Graf and Kelly Holmes (my two main competitors).
It takes a colossal amount of athletic ability, technical skill and mental courage to play one sport professionally, but more than one sporting code? That requires a generational talent.Mutola will always be remembered as an African legend and one of the greatest female athletes ever, who reached the peak of her powers, not once, but twice!