Christine Ohuruogu: Getting the party started after learning from Bolt
East End golden girl loved her Jamaican jaunt and is on track to defend her Olympic 400m title on home soil next year
Sunday 15 May 2011
Christine Ohuruogu is sitting in an office block in Manchester waxing lyrically about the six weeks she spent training with Glen Mills' sprint group in Kingston, Jamaica, in January and February. "Do you socialise with the other athletes out there?" the Olympic 400m champion is asked. "Yeah, sometimes..." she starts to reply before someone interjects: "What we really want to know is do you go out clubbing with Usain Bolt?"
The somewhat forgotten woman of British athletics – hamstrung by injury since she flew from fifth to first in the home straight of the one-lap final in the Beijing Bird's Nest on 19 August 2008 – does not break stride. "I went out with him once," she says. "That was on a weekend. Most of the time you're so tired you don't want to be on your legs at the weekend because you've got to start again on the Monday. I just relax and stuff. I don't do anything crazy."
As Britain's one reigning Olympic track-and-field champion prepares to run on home ground a year beforea home Olympics – over 200m on the specially erected sprint strip on Deansgate in the GreatCity Games in Manchester this afternoon – it is clear that she has gleaned something valuable from her Jamaican jaunt. But it is not how to pull Lightning Bolt moves on the dance floor until 4am.
"They love to party but they party when it's appropriate," Ohuruogu says. "They don't party during the week because the coaches will know – when you come to training the next day and mess it up. They're not that way inclined. They're very serious about their work. I was very surprised actually. These guys batterthemselves in training."
For the record, Ohuruogu did not try to match strides on the training track with the fastest man in history. "I train with the girls in his group," she says. What the 26-year-old Londoner does endeavour to do these days – what she has learned most from her time in Usain Bolt's training stable – is to keep her life in the fast lane in a healthy perspective.
"Jamaica was more of a mental learning experience for me," Ohuruogu says. "I just like their attitude to their work. They work very hard when they train but at the same time they're very relaxed. They don't really stress too much about stuff. They just turn up and train hard, go home. It's a very simple way of life.
"It's probably a cultural thing. They're very laid back. If you can't do something, you can't do it. You don't cry about it. Things that we stress about, they probably would not care about too much."
All of which can only help Ohuruogu when it comes to London 2012 and the business of defending her Olympic crown down the road from her family home in Stratford. "It's going to be like a pressure cooker," she says, outlining the importance to all British athletes of using 2011 to prepare for the burning intensity of those home Games. "You can't expectathletes to jump into the fire of 2012 without ever dealing with the pressure of being in a World Championships abroad, without being in a stadium with 90,000 people.
"I mean, 2012 is going to be like the World Championships times by what... 10? The extra pressure that's going to come with it is going to be something none of us have experienced before. It's not going to be like running at Crystal Palace in front of a home crowd in a one-off meet. The quicker you can get to grips with the fact that you're going to be in that kind of environment, then the better you'll be for 2012."
Ohuruogu has a proven track record of thriving in the pressure cooker environment of a major championship – stretching back to 2006, when she won the Commonwealth Games 400m title at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. In 2007, despite being out of action for most of the season because of the 12-month suspension she served for missing three drugs tests, she won the World Championship title in Osaka. The following year she plundered Olympic gold in Beijing, but then injury struck. Then in 2009, Ohuruogu was preparing for the defence of her World Championship crown when she suffered a torn thigh muscle. She did pretty well to reach the final in Berlin, finishing fifth. Last summer she was also forced to miss the European Championships because of injury.
Not that the enforced gap year has hampered her long-range build-up to 2012. "It's sometimes nice to take a break from the mental rollercoaster,"Ohuruogu confesses. "It's nice to get off and just relax and chill for a bit, because it can get really stressful at times. I'm not going to lie; I enjoyed having a normal summer last year – going out with my friends, doing stuff I haven't done for years.
"It can help for 2012. What athletes do is not normal. The body's not designed to keep pushing. There's a fine line between being very strong and crashing. If you can get time to just settle the body and get yourself back into focus, get your body back into gear, it's not always a bad thing."
Ohuruogu hopes to get herself back into something approaching top gear in time for this year's World Championships, in Daegu, South Korea, in August. "Nothing less than [a medal] will be acceptable," she says. "I cannot come home without a medal."
Presumably the goal is the same for those home Olympics, just 14 months away now? "Oh, definitely," the golden girl from the East End of London says.
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