WRITTEN FOR TEAM 2012 VISA
Three years ago, she had the sport at her feet with World and Olympic gold and was billed as Britain’s best bet for glory in London 2012 but now, in her third consecutive season riddled with injury, Christine Ohuruogu is in a race against time to return to form for her big title defence next summer, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 400m runner – who celebrates her 27th birthday today – has endured a long line of injuries since capturing gold in Beijing 2008 and has frustratingly witnessed both her 2012 ‘favourite’ tag and her times diminish in the process.
The past few seasons have been a cruel blow for the 2007 World champion, as – due to persistent problems - she was relegated to fifth in the 2009 global event and forced to miss both the European championships and Commonwealth Games last year – the latter season with a torn quad muscle.
The drama has indeed continued into 2011, with Ohuruogu still citing soreness in the area which caused her to finish fourth and last in a poor 23.48 200m at the Great Manchester CityGames last weekend, behind her fierce rival for world gold this summer, American Alyson Felix, the three-time World champion over the half-lap.
“I’m not really happy , my quad is tight but it’s alright - the 400m is a lot less impact so I’m going to rest a little and get a base in for them later in the season,” the Newham and Essex Beagle reveals.
“I had a scan the other day and its better - I think I was in denial last year, it was a bigger injury than I wanted to admit myself.
“I was trying to push too hard, which was a big lesson for me, so it serves me right, really.
“It was a bit sore and tight the other day so I pulled out of the race in Jamaica but I won’t stop training for it, it’s just a matter of getting it loosened up.”
Guided by Lloyd Cowan at their London base, the pair decided it best to make a change this springtime so Ohuruogu jetted off to the Caribbean island to hook up with triple world record-holder Usain Bolt and his group for a six-week training
It was a spell which the British 150m record-holder insists did her the world of good, too:
“I like the relaxed Jamaican attitude – they don’t stress so it’s a very simple way of life,” she explains.
“They work very hard - I wouldn’t have been able to replicate that at home.
“I felt the pressure as Olympic champion, trying to run away from the other girls - I will probably go back next year to get away from the British winter and focus on getting the groundwork done.”
Having started off the season with a 53.09 400m and 23.49 200m clocking in America, the former England-level netballer is determined to improve as the summer progresses but Ohuruogu knows more than most just how testing the sport can be.
After taking the 2006 Commonwealth title as a 21-year-old and winning the world crown in Osaka, 2007 in her first year as a senior athlete – and a mere twenty-four days and seven races after completing her one-year competition ban for missing three drugs tests – and the coveted Olympic title, Ohuruogu has struggled to get back to her best.
Despite the onslaught of constant injuries, she has been the British number-one for the past four years and managed to record 50.88 last summer but is eager to return to the 49.61 2007 shape which took her to third on the national all-time list and the higher echelons of international athletics:
“2009 got me the most as the injury knocked me after a strong year and last year
wasn’t supposed to happen – I thought the (European) title was mine,” she reveals.
Although still fiercely confident and hungry for success, Ohuruogu has a refreshing take on her troubles:
“It was really nice - after pushing my body for six years - to take a break from the mental rollercoaster and chill for a bit.
“I was annoyed but it wasn’t that frustrating as the body’s not designed to keep doing this year after year and it’s torturous.
“There’s a very thin line between being strong and crashing - I actually had a good summer for a change and enjoyed having a rest and settled the body and mind.”
Having been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s 2009 New Year’s Honours’ list, Ohuruogu is keen to return her thanks for such British support by climbing atop of the medals podium next summer in the country’s greatest sporting extravaganza in London.
In the event in which she also just missed out on the final as a 20-year-old in the
Athens 2004 edition, Ohuruogu is eager to take full advantage of successfully overturning her Olympic ban from the 2006 ruling in late 2009 by finally overcoming her injuries to take gold once again.
One of nine children, her family home is a mile away from the Olympic stadium in Stratford and Ohuruogu’s first challenge on the road back to Olympic glory will be at the World Championships in Deagu, South Korea this August.
“Training’s gone well but I don’t really feel that I’m where I was this time last year so I want to nail some things in training before racing more,” explains the athlete who will next compete over 400m in Ostrava at the end of the month.
“I want to qualify (for the World’s) before the UK trials and nothing less than medalling would be acceptable to me – the same with London.
“I know I can challenge the best at 400m and I never run away from a challenge, I hope it’s still in me to win.
Fate has evidently changed Ohuruogu’s path over the years from 2012 golden hope to a runner who Team GB will now even be unsure as to her participation, but if she can finally rise above her health problems, she may just manage to silence the critics in time:
“People are focusing too much on 2012, you have to do well in 2011 first,” Ohuruogu reveals.
“It (London) will be so big, being a home crowd - a pressure cooker and like the World championships times ten.
“It’s a two-year programme and I think I know what to expect.
“If it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to kill myself but I have a lot of experience and I belief I know myself well enough to know if something wasn’t right and how to
push my body.”