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Derartu Tulu grew up tending cattle on the dusty plains of Ethiopia but went on to become an Olympic legend. The 21-year old from the village of Bekoji became the first black African woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She claimed the Womens 10,000m title in Barcelona with a personal best time of 31:06:02, beating South Africa’s Elana Meyer into second place.
In a symbol of hope for a new Africa, Tulu joined hands with the white South African silver medallist for a victory lap. South Africa had been banned from Olympic competition since 1964 because of its black and white separation politics and the image of these two sporting heroes united in a poignant show of post-apartheid harmony captured the imagination of the globe..
Tulu grew in stature, status and confidence after Barcelona. Four years later she became the first woman to retain the 10,000m title, winning the gold medal in Sydney against fiercely talented opposition. It was a breathtaking victory that saw the top six athletes in the race finish inside the Olympic record. Tulu retained her Olympic title in a time of 30:17.49, helped by her incredible penultimate lap of 60.3 seconds.
Having given birth to her first child and become an international superstar of women’s distance running Tulu claimed a third Olympic medal at Athens in 2004, again in the 10,000m event and this time a bronze.