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The Moroccan Athlete Who Inspired a Generation

If you are a Moroccan woman and have just turned 36 years old, you are almost certainly named Nawal. This is because the victory of Nawal El Moutawakel on 8 August 1984 at the Olympics in Los Angeles meant so much for the Moroccan King Hassan II that he declared that all the girls born on that day should be named after her. She didn’t just become the first woman to win the 400m hurdles – the discipline only introduced for the first time for women at that Games – but she also became the first Moroccan to ever win a gold medal at the Olympics. Indeed, she was the only Moroccan woman there at all. Perhaps this then inspired her compatriot Saïd Aouita who few days later doubled Morocco’s success by winning the men’s 5000m. But what the world should always remember is that Nawal El Moutawakel was the first Arabic African woman to ever become an Olympic champion. From there, a huge, a wide door opened up to many young girls, not just in Morocco but in many previously highly restrictive Arab and Muslims states.