Last August, track fans watched Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu’s shocking exit from the lineup of the 400m preliminary rounds at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. Her facial expression told the extent of the daze she was in as officials escorted her from the track for jumping the gun at the start of her event.
That was the day before Usain Bolt picked the start in the 100m final. Bolt’s offense was unexpected but understandable; that race begs for a quick getaway. Just ask Asafa Powell or Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, two of the best practitioners of the art at the moment. Short sprints carry loaded fields of top-notch runners, hence no forgiveness for pedestrian starts. But the 400m? Why would a champion like Ohuguoru be caught in such transgression when only the Russian Antonia Krivoshapka posed any sort of threat in that race?
There was immediate speculation that she might have been nervous, having been out of high-level competition for a while. The presence of favorites Allyson Felix of the USA and Amantle Montsho in the other heats might even have added more pressure on her already fragile psyche. After Ohuguoru’s Beijing victory, her father recalled how nervous she was before the race, which had the American Sanya Richards starting as favorite. Well, only Ohuguoru herself knows what happened in Daegu. Or does she?
The 2007 World champion and 2008 Olympic champion from Stratford in East London faced many adversities since she last stomped her class in the event in Beijing. In 2009 she sustained a hamstring injury shortly before the Berlin World Championships where she finished fifth in the final. Then a torn quadriceps muscle ended her 2010 season, keeping her out of the European Championships and Commonwealth Games, and forcing her to miss ten weeks of training in 2011. Her best time for the season was 51.49secs.
A one-year ban in 2006 for missing three random drug tests, a fight to overturn a British Olympic Association-imposed ban from competing at the Olympics, and two years of injury not only frustrated her but also eliminated her as the possible face of British athletics for the London 2012 Olympics. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis became that poster girl, and Ohuguoru has since told the BBC that she never really cared about being in the spotlight because it can be distracting.
Training Away from Home
Despite all, the now 27-yr-old double champion of Nigerian parentage never gave up throughout her roller-coaster experiences; instead she headed to Jamaica for a winter to train under the guidance of Glen Mills, the man who conditions Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, and followed up that move with training stint in Los Angeles.
Ohuruogu later told The Telegraph newspaper of London that the “enforced rest in 2010” may have enabled her body to recuperate from years of intense work, and that training with the Jamaicans showed her how to cope with the stress that comes with the sport.
The Telegraph further quoted her as saying: “I just like their [Jamaicans] attitude to their work. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but they’re just very relaxed. From what I can see, they don’t really stress too much about stuff. They just turn up and train, then go home. Very simple. A very, very simple way of life. But they also work very hard. I don’t think there’s any way I would have been able to replicate that at home. No way.”
All that Ohuruogu did seemed to have worked. The quarter-miler who prefers outdoor competition ran her first indoor race of the season at the World Championships in Istanbul March 11, and showed she is returning to her former self for the Olympics, which her country is hosting, less than a mile from where she was born and lives. Her relay performance in Istanbul was a dress rehearsal of sorts for the command performance we can expect from her if she remains healthy.
In Istanbul, the British fielded a team for the 4x4 relay, including Ohuguoru of course, to tackle the Americans who had won that race numerous times.
Strength and Control
Running US transplant Shana Cox as leadoff, Britain held its own until the first exchange. The Americans with Natasha Hastings and the Russians with Kseniya Ustalova then distanced themselves from Britain’s 2007 World silver medalist Nicola Sanders and the rest of the field on the crucial second leg, establishing a deficit that looked impossible to erase.
But it was the experienced Ohuguoru on the third leg, and she had to do something special to not allow the teams ahead to get away. Known for her strength and ability to run a controlled race and take down her rivals, Ohuguoru wasted no time in closing the gap to blow past US and Russia to put her team in front with a lead good enough for anchor Perri Shakes-Drayton to hold off the rapidly closing Sanya Richards-Ross and strike gold in a world leading 3mins, 28.76secs, with a lunge at the line that sent her crashing to the track.
While Shakes-Drayton must be commended for not faltering with Richards-Ross, the Istanbul 400m champion, on her shoulder, it was Ohuguoru’s stunning run that was the catalyst, something that the British most likely cannot wait to see in London, both in the individual 400m and the mile relay. The writing is big and bold on the track: Christine Ohuguoru is back in form. A series of races going into the London Games will be the test on whether she has fully recuperated and ready to race in a big way in her hometown.
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