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09 Oct 2014
Sydney 2000

Extraordinary Amaral earns marathon ovation

Not every athlete earns their place in Olympic history by winning a race or climbing on to the podium. Sometimes it is the simple action of taking part that marks them out as extraordinary.

Aguida Amaral came 43th in the women's marathon but sent out a powerful message about perseverance and determination. She was from East Timor, which had been devastated by 20 years of civil war. In 1999, just a year before the Sydney Games, Aguida had fled from her home and lived for some time in a refugee camp. When, some weeks later, she eventually returned to her home she found that it had been ransacked and burned.

Almost all of her possessions had been destroyed, including her only pair of running shoes. Running, though, was a part of her and she was determined to persevere with her sport and try to fulfil her dream of competing in the Olympics. So she ran barefoot along roads and fields. When her feet began to ache, she ran instead on the soft sand of the local beaches.

She received a pair of trainers as a gift from the Australian Olympic Committee and kept running every day. Her times were nowhere near world class, but the challenge was clear. Could Aguida become her nation's first female athlete to compete in the Olympics?

East Timor's bid for independence did not succeed in time for it to be officially recognised at the Olympics, but the IOC did allow four Timorese athletes to compete anyway, and Aguida was one of them. Her dedication had paid off and, for only the second time in her life, she found herself on the start line of a marathon.

Not every runner that day reached the finish line. Eight dropped out, but Aguida covered the course in a little over three hours. Having crossed the line for the first time, she came to a halt before an official reminded her she still had to run a lap of the track. She did so to the chorus of a standing ovation from the Sydney crowd. It was one of the most emotional moments of the whole Games.

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