Maria Mutola was 15 when she had the honour of being the flag-vbearer for her native Mozambique at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, dpa reported.
At the Beijing Games 20 years later, she finally crossed the finishing line of an outstanding athletics career.
The three-times world champion was one of the fastest in the
women's 800 metres final on Monday evening, narrowly missing out on a medal.
"I gave it everything I had," the 35-year-old said a quarter-of-an-hour after the race won by Kenya's Pamela Jelimo in 1:54.87 minutes. "For an 18-year-old she's really, really fast."
Mutola's six Olympic appearances have been surpassed by only one other female track and field star - Jamaican sprint diva Merlene Ottey.
Maria de Lurdes Mutola was her country's first sportswoman to win Olympic gold - at the Sydney Games in 2000. Four years earlier she won bronze in Atlanta. She finished fourth in the 2004 Athens Games and came fifth in Barcelona in 1992, the same position she finished her Olympics career with in Beijing.
"Seventeen years of sport at the highest level is a long time. After another Olympic season I'm convinced it's the right time for me to turn my attention to other things.
"This season is definitely my last," said Mutola, who plans to play a more active role in the organization she founded to work in social projects.
No one knows how many laps Mutola has clocked in her long career. But she has certainly seen a lot of the world.
The former football player from Maputo went to live with an American couple in Oregon when she was 18 and now resides near Johannesburg in South Africa,
The seven-times indoor champion landed her greatest successes between 1992-96 when she was undefeated in 50 finals. The only setback was in the World Cup semi-final of 1995 when she was disqualified for overstepping the track boundary.
Her biggest payday was in 2003 when she was the sole winner of the Gold League jackpot, which earned here a purse of one million dollars in gold.
Her last race under the Olympic flame in a world-class time of 1:57.68 showed she still has plenty of fire left in her.
But as her rivals were busy giving interviews, Mutola took a back seat and cast her eyes around Beijing's impressive National Stadium.
"I am grateful and I am happy," she said."