PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – Women’s sports in Brazil are soaring to heights that have never been reached in South America’s largest country – and Maurren Maggi is a major reason why.
Maurren Maggi, 34, seized the international spotlight two years ago in Beijing, where she won the long jump with a leap of 7.04 meters (23 feet, 1.16 inches), becoming the first female Brazilian to win Olympic gold in an individual event.
Maurren Maggi, who will be counted on to lead her country’s delegation at the Olympics in London in 2012, recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Infosurhoy.com to discuss the challenges and future of athletics nationwide.
Infosurhoy.com: What was it like going from being suspended for two years for failing a drug test in 2003 to winning the gold medal at the Olympics?
Maurren Maggi: That was tough. I ended up giving up athletics. I decided to become a mother and have an ordinary life. I stayed away longer than I needed – one year more. I found the punishment was unfair, although I had always received full support from the (Brazilian Athletics) Confederation, my coaches and my club. But every time I went to meet people at the track I felt how much everyone was on my side, encouraging me. Then, I gave birth to Sophia, and she gave me tremendous strength to return.
Infosurhoy.com: What role did Sophia have in your return to the track?
Maurren Maggi: Sophia came in a moment in my life in which I wasn’t training. And it was Sophia who gave me the strength I needed to return and meet many challenges, including winning the gold medal – and to have an athletic routine again.
Infosurhoy.com: Why is Brazilian athletics reaching such a high level of competitiveness, especially among women?
Maurren Maggi: This is a special moment for women's athletics, especially in the jumping competitions. Besides, we can’t forget Keila Costa, the bronze medalist in the long jump at the World Indoor Championships. We still have a lot of work to do, but we should recognize there have been [good] results, as our approach to training has greatly improved.
Infosurhoy.com: You and Fabiana Murer, who won the pole vaulting competition at the IAAF World Indoor Championships this year, are beautiful. Does the “muse” label bother you? Do you like it?
Maurren Maggi: Everybody knows I’m a vain woman, so that doesn’t bother me at all!
Infosurhoy.com: What is the state of Brazilian athletics?
Maurren Maggi: We have few teams and also insufficient programs for identifying and developing talent. Even so, I think we’re in a promising moment. Since São Paulo F.C. announced it’s returning to athletics, many other soccer clubs have shown interest in supporting Olympic sports. In São Paulo, we have a program (the Sports Excellence Center) which has revealed some of the greatest talents in Brazilian athletics during the past 25 years, and it’s an example to be followed by other states.
Infosurhoy.com: How can Brazil compete at the same level as the United States by winning more consistently at the world’s biggest competitions?
Maurren Maggi: In the U.S., there is a culture of promoting sports in the schools, which will take decades to be reproduced in Brazil. But we can improve, as long as there is a national sports policy starting now.
Infosurhoy.com: How much work needs to be done by Brazil to become a sports superpower?
Maurren Maggi: Not much. In the last World Indoor Championships, Brazil was among the 10 best countries, and many of them already see us as a great competitor.
Infosurhoy.com: Before the London Olympics, you are expected to compete at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Pan American Games. How is your training progressing?
Maurren Maggi: As for 2011, my target is the Pan American Games. I've been training to become a three-time champion. But surely the World Championships will be a big challenge, and I want to be in condition to compete head to head with all [the competitors].
Infosurhoy.com: Will the pressure be greater for you at the 2012 Olympics since you’ll be the defending champion?
Maurren Maggi: I won’t feel pressured but encouraged to give my best to defend my medal. I’ll be the only one to have this privilege in London, and I'll use all my experience to make this dream real.
•Gold medal in long jump, 2008 Beijing Olympics, 7.04 meters
•Gold medal in long jump, 2007 Pan American Games, 6.84 meters; 1999 Pan American Games, with 6.59 meters
•Brazilian and South-American record-holder of long jump, 7.26 meters
•South American record-holder in 100 meter hurdles, 12.71 seconds (2001)
•South American record-holder of triple jump, with 14.53 seconds (2003)
•Posted world’s top long jump in 1999 (7.26 meters) and in 2003 (7.06 meters)
•Personal-best long jump of 7.26 meters is ninth-best in sport’s history
•Silver medal in the long jump at the 2008 World Indoor Championships of Spain, 6.89 meters
•Posted second-best long jump in the world in 2008 with a mark of 6.99 meters