Nawal’s watershed performance was watched live in her hometown of Casablanca in the early hours of the morning and locals poured onto the streets to celebrate. Her Olympic success earned her instant recognition in her country and the King of Morocco decreed that all girls born on the date of her victory were to be named in her honour.
Although a stunning accomplishment, it was not a surprise result. She was groomed at Iowa State University in the United States and had been running with considerable success on the hotly-competitive American collegiate scene over the previous two years.
Her Olympic achievement was the breakthrough that gave Moroccan women much-needed belief in themselves and the courage to take up sport, which had previously been regarded as the preserve of men. The generation, which grew up at the time of her Los Angeles success has since emerged impressively on the international scene. Nezha Bidouane was world champion in 1997 in the 400m hurdles, Zohra Ouaziz took the silver medal in the 1999 World Championships in the 5,000m, while Hasna Benhassi took silver in the 800m in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and bronze at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.
Nawal is still fiercely proud of her roots and regards the new opportunities that her Olympic victory gave to girls in Morocco as her most telling achievement in athletics.
She still remains active in Moroccan athletics and for many years was involved in the Government. She was Inspector at the Ministry of Youth and Sports (1989 -1997), Secretary of State to the Minister of Social Affairs, responsible for Youth and Sport (1997-1998) and Minister of Youth and Sports (2007-2009).
She has made the cause of health and fitness and participation of women in sport the centre piece of her philosophy. As organiser of the Courir pour le Plaisir (Run for Fun), an annual 10 km fun run which attracts up to 30,000 women in Casablanca, she has put her beliefs into practice.
Her influence internationally has also increased significantly in recent years. In 1995, she became a council member of the International Association of Athletics Federations and two years later she became the first Muslim woman ever to be elected to the International Olympic Committee.
A member of the IOC Women and Sports Commission, the IOC Marketing Commission and the IOC International Relations Commission, in 2004 she was appointed Chair of the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2012 Olympic Games.
In January 2010, she was appointed Chair of the IOC’s Co-ordination Commission for Rio and in July 2012 she was elected a Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee - the first woman from a Muslim and Arab nation ever to be elected. In 2015 she was presented with the Légion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande.
She was a founder member of the Laureus World Sports Academy and has been Vice Chair and Trustee of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. In 2010 she won the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award for her work for women in sport and the International Olympic Committee.