The World Cup’s Fastest Woman Got Her Start on the Track

Salma Paralluelo of Spain ran a time of 57.36 in the 400-metre hurdles as a 16-year-old—but she gave it up to focus on the pitch.

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Spain’s newest soccer star, Salma Paralluelo, whose dramatic 81st-minute goal off the bench against a defensively strong Swedish squad helped catapult the country into Sunday’s World Cup Final, may not just be the fastest player in the match, she may be the fastest woman in the entire tournament. In fact, the 19-year-old was an elite 400-metre hurdler on the track before focusing on her soccer career.

Paralluelo is a rare talent. At only 19, she is the youngest member of Spain’s national team. Despite her age, she has been in the spotlight since she was 6, after running in the Zaragoza Marathon. By age 8, she was already running one of the most famous races in Barcelona, the Jean Bouin, which she won for five straight years.

At 15, she was selected to represent Spain at the European Championships—the youngest there.

“Coaching Salma was a delight. When you watched her train, you saw lots of people stopping to watch her run. We saw beauty. She was like a gazelle. She’s extraordinarily gifted at running,” Felix Laguna, her former running coach told The Athletic.

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Salma Paralluelo, Spain’s World Cup star, competes in Spanish Indoor Athletics Championship in 2021.

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“If she had chosen athletics and injuries had respected her, she would have ended up in an athletics final at the Olympic Games for sure,” Laguna continued. “And with a medal. I don’t know which of the three, but she would have finished on the podium.”

At 15, Paralluelo attained a personal best, according to World Athletics, of 53.83 in the 400-metres at the Spanish Indoor Championships and at 16, 57.36 in the 400-metre hurdles at the Campeonato de España de Federaciones Autonómicas.

While she was still pursuing both athletics and soccer, having signed with Spanish club Villareal, she suffered a painful ACL injury. After returning to action nine months later, Paralluelo chose to focus solely on her soccer career, and after finishing her stint with Villareal, signed with FC Barcelona at 18. She won the Champions League with the club that same year.

Paralluelo isn’t the only speedy former track star to play in the tournament, as the USWNT’s Alyssa Thompson has a PR of 11.69 in the 100-metres and was the top high school sprinter in the country last year.

Spain will face off against England in the final, and once again, Paralluelo may be called upon with her speed to produce a result.

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