Mutola's fantastic run at Prefontaine Classic ends with win in 800

Updated: June 8, 2008, 8:29 PM ET
Associated Press

EUGENE, Ore. -- Maria Mutola made it a sweet 16.

Mutola's fantastic run at the Prefontaine Classic ended Sunday with a victory in the 800 meters, her 16th win at the annual event.

She pulled away from the field to finish in 1 minute, 59.24 seconds. Afterward she knelt down to kiss the Hayward Field track.

[+] EnlargeMaria Mutola
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMaria Mutola's Prefontaine streak includes 12 victories in the 800 meters, three in the 1,000 meters and one in the 1,500 meters.

"I've been running this for half of my life," the 35-year-old from Mozambique said. "It's like I know nothing else but the Prefontaine."

Mutola slowly circled the track for her victory lap, stopping to shake hands with nearly every spectator who reached out. Others gave her a standing ovation.

Now living in Johannesburg, South Africa, she is a local favorite who went to high school in Springfield, Ore., and trained in the Eugene area for many years.

She plans to retire after this summer's Olympics in Beijing.

"I'm going to miss coming here," she said. "I'm going to miss the crowd, I'm going to miss the race. But sometimes you just have to say goodbye to good things."

When Mutola competes for Mozambique in Beijing, it will mark her sixth Olympics dating back to Seoul in 1988 -- when she was 15. She won the gold medal in the 800 meters at the Sydney games.

Mutola ran the 1,500 meters in her first Prefontaine Classic in 1991, placing fifth. With the exception of 2002, when she didn't compete, she has won at the Pre ever since then.

The streak includes 12 victories in the 800 meters, three in the 1,000 meters and one in the 1,500 meters.

As she has for the past 10 years, Mutola donned the No. 1 bib for the event. She bested two-time NCAA outdoor champion Alice Schmidt, who finished in 2:00.01, and two-time Olympian Hazel Clark-Riley, who finished in 2:00.51.

Also running the 800 meters was prep sensation Chanell Price, who at 17 is half Mutola's age. Price briefly took the lead, but faded in the final 100 meters to place sixth in 2:01.61 -- second only to Kim Gallagher's all-time American prep record of 2:00.07.

"All the emotion, all the stress is behind me, now that I was able to finish good," Mutola said.

The Prefontaine Classic, in its 34th year, honored her by retiring her No. 1 bib. It was also the inaugural year for the meet's Maria Mutola Outstanding Athlete Award.

The first recipient was Brad Walker, who broke an eight-year-old American record in the pole vault on Sunday, clearing 19 feet, 9 3/4 inches.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press