LISBON, Portugal — When World Marathon champion Rosa Mota began running through the streets of her neighborhood in the northern city of Oporto 12 years ago, people stood in their doorways and yelled at her to go home and wash dishes or darn socks.
"They cheer me now, they go out of their way just to watch me train," Mota, 29, said during an interview in Lisbon.
"Kids in the neighborhood say they want to be like me when they grow up. And today, their parents encourage them because now I'm an example that sports can mean social advancement."
Since Mota entered her first marathon in Athens in 1982, she has won eight of 11 contests, including the 1982 European Championship on her first try.
She called that victory "a joke" and said she was more surprised than anyone when she won.
Last August, in the suffocating heat of Rome, she set a World Championship record of 2:25.17, loping into Olympic Stadium more than seven minutes ahead of second-place Soviet runner Zoja Ivanova.
In the spring she had won the Boston Marathon with a time of 2:25.20.
Mota placed third behind U.S. gold medalist Joan Benoit in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics with a time of 2:26.57.
Experts consider Benoit, Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen and Mota the three best women marathoners.
Mota is training now for the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul next year at the small Centro de Atletismo do Porto club.
She has been a member there since she first raised eyebrows and protests in 1975 by running in a track suit through Foz, the working class neighborhood where she still lives.
In conservative, traditional northern Portugal running wasn't an acceptable thing for girls to do. She says many of her friends, who started out with her, were forced to abandon running because of pressure from boyfriends or husbands.
Today, Mota lives with her coach and companion Jose Pedrosa just a few blocks from her parents' home.
"I was the first Portuguese woman athlete to win big money," she said, "and that did a lot towards dignifying female athletics in Portugal."
She's not sure just how much money she makes, but "it certainly is a lot for me."
She pays all her own equipment, travel and training expenses. Although the World Championship committee in Rome provided her with a hotel, she switched to another one and paid for it herself because she wanted air-conditioning.
Mota and Carlos Lopes, Portugal's 1984 Olympic marathon champion, have made running as popular as soccer in Portugal, the poorest country in Western Europe with a per capita income of about $2,000 a year.