Feature22 May 2013

Life after 2012 for Ohuruogu


Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain competes in the women's 400m semi-final at the London 2012 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)

Christine Ohuruogu is not the sort to get ahead of herself. Even when she was at the golden peak of her quarter-miling powers, reeling in the opposition to claim the Commonwealth, World and Olympic 400m crowns back in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the Londoner was always loathe to bask in the glory. Quiet, self-effacing and pragmatic by nature, her feet remain planted resolutely on terra firma, despite what by her standards has been a flying start to the summer track season.

Ohuruogu tends to open her competitive campaigns with all of the urgency of Usain Bolt heading towards a start-line. There is none of the Jamaican’s showboating but plenty of his lack of haste. Only when the business time of the summer’s major championship comes round does the 29-year-old seem to crank herself into gear. “That I wake up, you mean?” she suggests, chuckling at the reputation she has forged.

The Olympic 400m champion in 2008 and, after slowly battling her way back from a serious quadriceps injury, the silver medallist on home ground – less than a mile from her family home in the east end of London – last August, Ohuruogu has started the 2013 outdoor season in far from sleep-walking mode.

Admittedly, when it came to the IAAF Diamond League opener in Doha on 10 May, she did not exactly come out of the blocks with all guns blazing, unlike Allyson Felix and Amantle Montsho. Still, in the home straight the Briton pulled herself through to third place in 50.53, behind Montsho, the reigning World champion from Botswana (the winner in 49.88) and Felix, the Olympic 200m champion (50.19).

Backing up a 50.58 clocking for second place to Stephanie McPherson (50.43) at the IAAF World Challenge Invitational in Kingston six days previously, it added up to Ohuruogu’s most promising opening to a season.

Races-a-plenty for 2013

Next up for the linguistics graduate is her first head-to-head of the year against Sanya Richards-Ross, the Jamaican-born American behind whom she claimed Olympic silver at London 2012. The pair are on the start list for the women’s 400m at the New York City Diamond League meeting at Randall’s Island on Saturday, the adidas Grand Prix. So is Montsho. The big race of the summer for all three will be the one lap final at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow on 12 August but the hors d’oeuvre in the Big Apple promises to be an appetising taster.

“Lloyd has got me running ragged this year,” Ohuruogu says, referring to her long-time coach, the former British 110m hurdler Lloyd Cowan. “He wants me to run as many Diamond League races as I can, taking into account training and travelling. You can’t just turn up and run tired. Not against the big girls.

“I can’t complain about how things have been going so far. Coming out with two 50.5s is alright but I don’t really get excited by things like that. It’s nice but ‘nice’ is not making me run faster. I am where I am.

“I think people sometimes think that I sit around waiting for championships, then suddenly decide, ‘Oh, I’m going to start running this year.’ But every year has been slightly different for me.

“I won in ’06 (Commonwealth Games in Melbourne). I won in ’07 (World Championships in Osaka). I won in ’08 (Olympics in Beijing). In ’09 I got injured, and in 2010 I missed the Europeans and Commonwealths because of a quad injury and that took a year or so to sort itself out.

“So it wasn’t really until 2012 that I could fully come back, and now I have a good year behind me. I’m going forward. I’m not having to go back to go forward. I’m not having to rehab anything. I’ve got a nice platform to work off.

"We’ve been able to up the volume and consistency of the work in training, which has been really helpful. We spent six weeks training in Florida, in Orlando at the Disney track... with Mickey Mouse.”

Ohuruogu laughs at the thought. She and the rest of Cowan’s charges – among them 2011 World Championship 110m Hurdles bronze medallist Andy Turner – actually spent a month-and-a-half training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World under the aegis of the veteran US coach Brooks Johnson.

“The track is on the Disney-run site,” Ohuruogu says. “Brooks is the coach there and it was an absolute treat to work with him. He’s a bit sassy. He’s like the Godfather of track and field.”

No more pressure

It is good to see Ohuruogu laugh. For a long time, in the year-by-year countdown to the London Olympics, the weight of the world appeared to be pressing on her shoulders, as the local girl with the golden reputation to uphold. Having emerged from a serious injury and from London 2012 year with a hard-won silver medal, she looks like a woman with a burden lifted.

“I think for a lot of British athletes, 2012 was the hardest thing we’ll ever go through,” she reflects. “It always hovered like this cloud and you were never quite sure how you were going to come out of the end of it.

“You could imagine – maybe I’ll do alright, maybe I won’t – but until it had gone you could not actually breathe and say, ‘Oh, the sun still rises; life still goes on.’ I think, for a lot of athletes, no matter how they did, it’s nice to come out of the other end and say, ‘Yeah, there is life after 2012.’ It is a relief, almost.”

Simon Turnbull for the IAAF