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IOC/Ian Jones
30 Jan 2018
Olympism in Action Forum
Olympism in Action Forum

Racing toward equality: Nawal El Moutawakel

Nawal El Moutawakel won the 400 metre hurdles at the Olympic Games Los Angeles 1984, becoming the first winner of the event and the first woman to compete from Morocco. She is now an advocate for increased women’s participation in sport.


In the run-up to the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018), we looked at groups and individuals who, inspired by the power of sport to contribute to a better world, have used their initiative to organise projects and programmes to effect change at all levels.

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“I was born on 15 April 1962 in Casablanca, Morocco. I always wanted to run and practise sport because I always believed in the true value of sport. I thought I was meant for sport, and vice-versa. It was something in my DNA. Reaching the Olympic level was a dream, but I never thought it would become a reality.”

“The first time the 400m hurdles were included was in 1984 at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, with the women’s marathon. That was a new start and it helped many women run the 400m hurdles, and not only that but also the 5,000 and 10,000 metres.”

“I felt I could be in the finals, like the top eight. But my coaches used to talk to me about believing stronger in myself, and having a high self-esteem because they really thought I could win – that it was my time. But they had to talk to me over and over and make me really think I was number one and really believe I could win because I was number one.”

“I was the only female athlete in the entire Moroccan delegation and everyone was counting on me.”

IOC/Matthew Lewis

“It was a joy when I crossed the finish line, a real joy. But there was also a sadness, because my father, who was my number one supporter, had passed away a few months before, and could not witness my victory.”

“It was the first time women were competing in that event and the first time a world record was broken in such an event. So it was, for my country, something very huge that no one was expecting. A young Moroccan girl who tried to find a place among all the best athletes, and not only to find a place, but to get a gold and to bring it back home. So it was something that will forever stay in every Moroccan’s mind.”

“From there, a huge, wide door opened up to many young girls in Morocco and many Arab and Muslim states and African countries to allow them to compete. And from that moment, we’ve seen many Moroccan women be world champions. It’s the same thing in Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and you name it – countries whose women were not attending the Olympic Games. And afterwards they were not attending to attend, but attending to win.”

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