First woman matador quits

SPAIN'S FIRST female matador, Cristina Sanchez, is hanging up her cape and suit of lights, vanquished by bullring machismo.

The woman who became a world star and inspired countless teenage wannabes has fallen victim to the bullfighters' adage: "Mas cornadas da la vida" - "Life inflicts the worst gorings".

Throughout her impressive career, Ms Sanchez, 27, has struggled for acceptance in this male-dominated world. In May 1996 she reached the pinnacle of the profession by triumphing as a fully fledged matador in the taurine mecca, Las Ventas bullring in Madrid. But that historic achievement did not make her equal in the eyes of those who regard bullfighting as a male affair.

"She achieved something no one else has done. It's a shame," laments her manager, Simon Casas. "Hers is not a problem of ability but of recognition. Her efforts have been in vain. The fans love her, but fellow bullfighters never accepted her." La Sanchez herself cites only "professional reasons" for her premature retirement, promising details in coming days.

She has faced sneers and rebuffs from male bullfighters who refused to share the billing with her and who undermined her by attributing any professional shortcomings to the fact that she is female. One famous bullfighter, Joselito, said he opposed women entering the ring because "a woman is subtle and the bull is crude".

Mr Casas himself slipped into stereotyping when he acknowledged Ms Sanchez's weakness at the moment of truth, the kill. "My theory is that women are born to give life, and so it is hard for them to take it away," he said.