LISBON -- When world marathon champion Rosa Mota began running through the streets of her neighborhood in Oporto, Portugal 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 here. "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 races, 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 hours 25 minutes 17 seconds, loping into Olympic Stadium more than seven minutes ahead of second-place finisher Zoja Ivanova of the Soviet Union.
Last spring, she had won the Boston Marathon in 2:25:20.
Mota placed third behind U.S. gold medalist Joan Benoit in the 1984 Summer Olympics in 2:26:57.
Experts consider Benoit, Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen and Mota the three best women marathoners in the world.
Mota is training at the small Centro de Atletismo do Porto club for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul.
She has been a member at the club 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. Mota said many of her friends who started out with her were forced to abandon running because of pressure from boyfriends or husbands.
Today, she 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 of her 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, because she wanted air-conditioning.
Mota and 1984 Olympic marathon champion Carlos Lopes have made running as popular as soccer in Portugal, the poorest country in western Europe, with a per capita income of around $2,000 per year.
Mota's pixie-like face has become familiar to millions of her countrymen, who have seen her winning races and receiving gold medals on television.
She gets dozens of letters a week, some asking for her autograph and some inviting her to speak to clubs about women and sports.
But most of the letters are from young girls who want advice about running and how to become a champion.
She tells them that to win, they have to enjoy running.
"When I run," Mota said, "I only think about the race, where I put my feet, my immediate surroundings. But in Rome, of course, I couldn't keep myself from looking at the monuments."