Athletics: Ohurougu and Douglas book surprise Athens trip

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The Independent Online

If an American - sorry, British - 400 metres runner added a much-needed dash of appeal to the opening day of the Olympic trials here, that task was achieved in startling fashion yesterday by two young Britons, Christine Ohurougu and Nathan Douglas, whose joyous performances booked them straight on to the plane for Athens.

If an American - sorry, British - 400 metres runner added a much-needed dash of appeal to the opening day of the Olympic trials here, that task was achieved in startling fashion yesterday by two young Britons, Christine Ohurougu and Nathan Douglas, whose joyous performances booked them straight on to the plane for Athens.

Douglas won a triple jump that had been deprived of the presence of Olympic finalist Phillips Idowu, registering personal bests of 16.49 and 16.56 metres before a final effort of 16.95m, the exact Olympic A qualifying standard.

Once the realisation hit him, the 21-year-old from Oxford sank back onto the track for a moment before getting to his feet and leaping for Britain.

"It doesn't get any better than that," he said. "I knew there was a possibility I could do it, but it was all about whether everything clicked on the day. And today it did."

The same was utterly true for Ohurougu, a 20-year-old linguistics student from University College, London. Her astonishing drive over the last stretch of the 400m final took her past the woman who leads the UK rankings this year, the European bronze medallist Lee McConnell.

Ohurougu's winning time was 50.98sec, well inside the Olympic A mark of 51.50 and faster than she had thought possible, even coming in a season where she has already knocked seconds off her personal best since choosing athletics over an international netball career.

Stunned and tearful at the close, Ohurougu admitted that she had no idea what the Olympic qualifying mark was before the race. "I didn't know what it was," she said.

"But I thought if I could finish in the top four at least I could get a relay spot. That was my aim for this year."

Although she won a bronze medal at last season's European Junior Championships, Ohurougu - the second eldest of seven children - was still combining her running with playing for the England Under-19 netball team. But her experience at the Championships helped convince her that she should concentrate on track and field.

"It was a huge team, and everybody supported each other so well. I really enjoyed it. It was so different from netball, where everyone is in your face all the time. In athletics you can go and train on your own at times. I'm more independent than netball allowed me to be."

Not surprisingly, the England netball coach attempted to persuade her to stay when she rang to say she was concentrating on the track. "He told me I would be missing out on competing in the World Youth Championships in Florida next year," she said. "But I don't regret the decision. I put everything into my training, and this is the first solid winter of work I have done."

Although she only manages to train twice in midweek and at weekends, as she fits her sport around her studies, her work has paid off in rewarding fashion this season.

Having begun with a personal best of 54.21, she reduced it to 52.20 at Loughborough in May and yesterday's performance, in a race which Donna Fraser, fourth-placed in the Sydney Olympics, had to miss because of flu, moved her up to a level which she found, in her own words, "scary".

Asked what she might achieve if she pursued athletics full time, she responded swiftly: "I don't know. It's frightening. I'm just glad to be going to Athens. I worry a lot, and so I don't want to panic myself."

Ohurougu had just taken her GCSEs during the last Olympics, which she did not watch. Athens will require a little more of her attention.

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