Andy Turner: I'd rather be hurdling tackles
"So what would you rather be doing next weekend: lining up for Notts County against Carlos Tevez in the FA Cup at Meadow Lane, or for the Great Britain athletics team against David Oliver, the world's number one high hurdler from the United States, in the Aviva International Match in Glasgow?"
Andy Turner pauses in his blocks as he ponders the question, but not for very long. "Er, I would much rather be playing football," he confesses. "I love running but football is my first love. I really miss it. When I retire, the first thing I'm going to do is play for a pub team on a Sunday. I'm looking forward to that."
In the meantime, Turner can look forward to being introduced to the crowd at the Kelvin Hall next Saturday as the European and Commonwealth 110m hurdles champion before tackling his first race of the 2011 indoor season – over 60m hurdles, against Oliver, the square-shouldered Floridian who was unbeaten last summer.
At the age of 30, after years of battling against injury and lack of funding, Turner has established himself as a major championship title- winner, twice over. Eighteen months out from the London Olympics, he is one of just eight British athletes ranked in the world's top 10 in a track and field event.
It might have been very different for the Nottinghamshire native. Turner hails from Hucknall, the former colliery town where Lord Byron is buried. He attended Nottingham High School – the alma mater of DH Lawrence and Leslie Crowther ("I had no idea that they went there," he confesses) – and spent two years playing in Notts County's youth set-up.
"I was a centre-forward but they put me in defence," Turner recalls. "I was there from the age of 11 or 12 and after two years they cut me. I just wasn't a defender. But in that time I got to play at Wembley twice, in mini-tournaments before play-off finals. One of the years we played against Liverpool in the final and I scored. Bobby Moore came on and gave me the trophy, so that was a good day. I'm actually a Forest fan. We used to play Forest and I always wished I was playing in the red rather than black and white. Beggars couldn't be choosers at the time, but I'm happy now."
And with good reason. At half-time in Nottingham Forest's opening game of the season, a 1-1 draw against Leeds United in August, Turner was introduced to the crowd as the freshly crowned European 110m hurdles champion, having produced a storming finish to bag the gold in Barcelona a fortnight previously "That was great," he reflects. "Even the Leeds fans gave me a standing ovation. I've got photographic evidence. My mate took a picture."
A real collector's item that must have been – to set alongside the picture of Turner producing his storming finish in the Montjuic Stadium to become only the third British winner of the European high-hurdles title, after Don Finlay and Colin Jackson.
Then there was the memorable snapshot in Delhi last October of Turner leading an England 1-2-3, ahead of William Sharman and Lawrence Clarke. Only Jackson had completed a European and Commonwealth 110m hurdles double before. And only Turner and 400m hurdler Dai Greene – a one-time Swansea City youth-team footballer – managed European and Commonwealth doubles in any events last year.
"I was overjoyed with last year," Hucknall's finest says. "I couldn't have asked for anything more – except a personal best. But my time in Barcelona, 13.28sec, showed me I was in shape to run a personal best. I only missed it by 0.01sec and I was running into a headwind.
"I know I've got to find a couple of metres to get up there with the best in the world but a biomechanics expert has looked at my technique and he says I'm spending too much time in the air. He reckons I can find two or three tenths of a second if I better my technique.
"If I can get that nailed, I can start to think about really mixing it with the very best."
For tickets to the Aviva International Match next Saturday in Glasgow, go to uka.org.uk/Aviva-series or phone 08000 556 056
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