WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
With the London 2012 Olympic Games a mere 25-months away, pressure to perform is building and reigning 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu faces a constant reminder of that pressure more than most; as the Olympic Park is currently being built on her doorstep, writes Nicola Bamford.
For 26-year-old Ohuruogu, 2012 is all about expectation; the expectation put on her broad shoulders by a nation who views her as a poster girl of the Games and her own instilled faith that believes she is destined to retain her Olympic crown on home turf in two years’ time.
As each day passes, the 2012 arena looms larger as developments continue and Ohuruogu channels the backdrop into an intense source of inspiration. On the awe-inspiring environment in which she trains daily, the one-lap athlete; one of eight children in the Ohuruogu clan, explained:
“Our family home is very close to the Olympic stadium; it will feel like running in my back garden. I would like to defend my Olympic title in 2012. I love running in London – it is my home city and I always get great support from the fans. The Olympic stadium is a stone’s throw away from my family home and it will be a very special event.”
Based at the Mile End stadium in Stratford with her coach Lloyd Cowan and training partners Simeon Williamson and Andy Turner; both members of Team GB, Ohuruogu is confident of bouncing back into top form following a dip in performance of late.
Experienced in returning to the track with a bang from testing times in the past, the quarter-miler is superb at remaining positive and focused in the face of critics and pressure:
“It’s always good to be positive!” Ohuruogu exclaimed. “I like to keep my head up with a smile on my face. Critics will always be there and the pressures will continue to grow in the run up to 2012, but I simply focus on what needs to be done and make sure that I am in the best shape to do so. That is the best way for me to approach any seemingly difficult challenge.”
A member of Newham and Essex Beagles, Ohuruogu has had an unremarkable start to her 2010 campaign but appears to start each season in lacklustre fashion before rounding into world-beating form at the right time.
Fifth place in the Doha leg of the Diamond League in 50.88 was followed by 11.44 and 17.07 100m and 150m runs in Manchester. The come June, Ohuruogu ran solid 200m and 400m outings in Hengelo and Ostrava and a 50.98 in the Oslo Diamond League. Her times are significantly behind the 49.61 personal best registered when winning the world title in Osaka, 2007 but Ohuruogu is patiently optimistic.
“I opened uncustomarily early this season and was able to run my fastest opening time with 50.88. I have faced high-quality competition in all of my races - not something I am used to but it is great preparation for the European Championships and Commonwealth Games. Everything has gone well in training. I have had some fantastic experiences training in different countries and environments.”
Indeed, in search of the ‘X factor’ Ohuruogu trained with sprint superstar Usain Bolt; the multiple world-record holder also managed by Ricky Simms of Pace Sports Management, in his homeland of Jamaica in April. His laid-back, ‘enjoyment is key’ attitude has evidently rubbed off on his British female counterpart but do not be fooled, as Ohuruogu is still the same fearsome competitor when it comes to the business end of the season.
When asked whether she feels confident of returning to top form in time for victory in the continental championships in Spain next month, the sprinter simply replied ‘yes’ and few would doubt her master-plan to reach her peak when it really counts.
It was the last European championships in 2006 when it was announced that Ohuruogu had failed three out-of-competition drugs tests and would subsequently miss a year of competition and receive a lifetime Olympic ban. Four years on and the outgoing athlete is more disciplined and ready to pounce on the opportunity she missed out on at that Gothenburg event. The European title is, after all, the only missing crown from her collection.
After returning from her competition ban, Ohuruogu showed a steely mental fortitude to claim a shock gold medal in the 2007 World championships in Osaka, with a personal best to boot, and after successfully overturning her Olympic veto, the Londoner captured the 2008 Beijing Olympic title in 49.62.
Sponsored by Adidas; official supporters of 2012, Ohuruogu is a marketing dream and added to her 2006 Commonwealth victory, the two global titles are Ohuruogu claims, her most precious achievements to date.
Going onto achieve from adversity, Ohuruogu will now be hoping to continue her luck this year after finishing a disappointing fifth in the 2009 World championships in Berlin last August. Recovered from the injury that held her back at that event, she is currently nursing a slight quad issue after a rollercoaster year that has forced her to withdraw from this weekend’s European Team Cup in Norway – but Ohuruogu is not worried in the slightest.
“I had some highs and lows (in 2009 also but) I improved my 200m PB and set a British Record at 150m. I will run in the Super 8 meeting in Glasgow and the AVIVA Grand Prix in Gateshead,” the former England junior netballer explained on her preparation for Barcelona.
She additionally hopes to continue her form until October in order to retain her Commonwealth crown in New Delhi.
Ohuruogu just missed the Athens Olympic final in 2004 as a twenty-year-old and has since then shown a dogged determination to ensure she never misses out on her shot at the medal rostrum again.
Another athlete in the family; 17-year-old Victoria, is showing the same ‘never-say-die’ attitude; evident in her recent fourth-place in the European Youth Olympic Trials in 54.17 – a time faster than her elder, more illustrious sibling at the same age.
But for now, ‘Chrissy O’ is the centre of sporting attention in the busy Ohuruogu network and should her competitions go according to plan this summer and next, she will certainly require a large bundle of spectator tickets for her Olympic defence in their back-yard.