Comeback queen Masterkova completes memorable middle-distance double
The women's 800m in Atlanta was expected to be a contest between two of the most respected athletes in the world – Cuba's Ana Quirot and Mozambique's Maria Mutola. Both had endured difficult personal and sporting journeys. Quirot had survived a horrific cooking accident that left her with 38% burns and tragically led to the death of her unborn baby. Mutola, meanwhile, had relied on support from the International Olympic Committee's Solidarity Programme to fund her training. Both came to Atlanta determined to shine in the face of adversity.
Both athletes did just that, and were involved in a thrilling battle for the 800m title. However it was Russia’s Svetlana Masterkova who took centre stage in the final. Born and brought up in a small town in Siberia, Masterkova had first come to prominence in 1991, when she set the fastest 800m time in the world and then made the final at the world championships, although she finished only eighth. Thereafter she struggled to reproduce her early form. After taking time out to have a baby, and several years without a race at international level, she targeted Atlanta for her comeback. After a period of incredibly hard work to regain her form, she won the 800m and 1,500m at the Russian Olympic trials, she travelled to the USA ready to compete on both fronts.
In the 800m, Quirot and Mutola were the undisputed favourites. And yet in the final the Russian bamboozled both of them with her unusual approach, alternating between bursts of speed and a slow pace to throw her rivals off their rhythm and take control of the race. Mutola dropped away in the closing 100m, leaving only Quirot in close pursuit of Masterkova. However, a final push saw the Russian cross the line to take a shock victory.
A week later she produced another stunning performance as she won the 1,500m title as well, beating Romania's Gabriela Szabo into second to complete a famous middle-distance double. It was all the more extraordinary as Masterkova had barely run any races over this distance since she was a teenager.
Good results continued to come her way in the years that followed, including European and world championship titles, as well as world records over a mile and 1,000m. But injury hindered Masterkova’s performances at the 2000 Games in Sydney, and she retired soon after, her place in history assured.