Nawal El Moutawakel 2007
Nawal El Moutawakel
BS '88, Physical Education
Nawal El Moutawakel (’88 physical education) has been breaking barriers and records ever since coming to Iowa State University from Morocco as a student-athlete in 1984. She was recruited to the Cyclone women’s track team “sight unseen” by coaches Pat Moynihan and Ron Renko, and she became one of the dominant women in the 400-meter hurdles in the world for the next several years.
In 1984, she won the gold medal in the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, and, in doing so, became the first African woman, Muslim woman, Moroccan woman, and Cyclone woman to win Olympic gold. Her Olympic victory made her an immediate national hero in Morocco. She stayed at Iowa State for the next four years, despite the loss of her coaches in a tragic plane crash in 1985, winning four Big Eight championships, an NCAA title, and gold medals in the Mediterranean Games (twice), University Games, and African Championships.
When she returned to Morocco in 1989, she was appointed inspector at the Ministry of Sport and Youth and then became the national sprint and hurdle coach for both men and women. In 1997 she became secretary of state for sport and youth. From 1998 to 2003 she was executive director of the BMCE Bank Foundation for Education and Environment in Casablanca, and she was director of the Sahara Sports Academy in Amby Valley, India, as well as president and founding member of the Moroccan Association of Sport and Development.
Throughout her professional career, El Moutawakel has used her popularity and influence to continue breaking down barriers for women. She has been an agent of change in the male-dominated Moroccan society, helping and inspiring other women to assert themselves through sport. She organized the first-ever Moroccan women’s 10K race through the streets of Casablanca, an event that now attracts more than 20,000 participants.
She has led significant change for women in sport on the international level. She is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Coordination Commission for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and was president of the IOC Evaluation Commission for those same games, the first woman to serve in each of those capacities. She was one of eight women to carry the Olympic flag during the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy, which was another first for women. She has also been a leader in AIDS education and tsunami relief efforts.
El Moutawakel was named an All-American Citizen by the mayor of Ames, Iowa, in 1984 and was inducted into the Iowa Sport Hall of Fame in 1994. She was a member of the first class of inductees into the Iowa State University Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997. She and her husband, Mounir Bennis, have two children, Zineb and Ròda, and live in Casablanca, Morocco.