Nawal El Moutawakel, the first woman from an Islamic nation to win a medal in the Olympics, will receive a Distinguished Service Award from the United States Sports Academy.
El Moutawakel, Morocco’s secretary of state for sport and youth and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), won the gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. This made her the first Moroccan, first African woman, and first Iowa State University athlete to win the gold. During her four years at Iowa State, she won 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.
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 10-kilometer 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. In addition to being a member of the IOC Coordination Commission for the London 2012 Olympic Games, she was president of the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2012 and 2016 games, making her the first woman to serve in each of those capacities. She has also been a leader in AIDS education and tsunami relief efforts.
The Academy’s Distinguished Service Award is given annually to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to national or international sports through instruction, research, or service. While the DSA is separate from the Academy’s Awards of Sport, its recipients also receive the coveted Order of the Eagle Exemplar for their achievements.
Each nominee must possess an extensive background in sports. This means that the individual must have had significant dealings in instruction, research, or service in sports for more than 10 years.