Athletics: Ohuruogu set for defiant stand in Sweden

Britain's Commonwealth 400 metres champion talks to Mike Rowbottom about an injury-plagued build-up to Gothenburg
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The Independent Online

There are those who revel in their sporting success. And there are those who endure it. Christine Ohuruogu tends to fall into the latter category. You get the feeling that the woman who beat the Olympic champion, Tonique Williams-Darling, to the Commonwealth 400 metres title in Melbourne four months ago in a personal best of 50.28sec would rather all the fuss and bother off the track simply did not exist.

Ohuruogu is one of those increasingly rare sporting figures who walks the walk rather than talks the talk. If you want a soundbite, don't ask her. If you want a performance, she's your girl.

Even Ohuruogu's combative instincts are about to be put to the most stringent test, however, as she prepares for the European Championships which start in Gothenburg on Monday.

If the 22-year-old Londoner had had anything like a decent preparation period for the forthcoming action in Sweden she would be travelling with massive confidence. But Achilles tendon problems in both legs have seriously hampered her training since running in Australia, and she will set out for Gothenburg in a spirit of defiance rather than expectation.

Last month the British athlete who made the biggest pound-for-pound impact at the Commonwealth Games ran her first big comeback race in the Norwich Union Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, finishing seventh in 52.43sec in a race won by the American world No 1, Sanya Richards, in an all-comers' record of 49.05sec, with Ohuruogu's British colleague, Nicola Sanders, finishing fourth in a personal best of 50.68.

It was nothing like the performance Ohuruogu would have had in mind four months ago. The Palace race was merely a means to an end, however, and Ohuruogu did enough to convince herself that she could extend her season meaningfully. Thus last week was spent training in Birmingham with her coach, Lloyd Cowan, running through a sequence of sessions designed to replicate the rounds she faces in Sweden.

Cowan is pretty much convinced that Ohuruogu is going to need surgery at the end of this season to correct a problem she has suffered from on and off since she was a 15-year-old netball player. But the European Championships are still in her sights.

"Crystal Palace was about the bigger picture," Cowan said. "We wanted to get her through to the Europeans, and when she gets there she will be running rounds, which she loves, and she will really get amongst the Russians and the Bulgarian girl.

"She's moving back in the right direction - she's far better this week than she was last. I think she can run 51 and bits in her first round, and do whatever it takes in the semi-finals. When it comes to the final, anything could happen."

Ohuruogu first accelerated into public view two years ago when she took two seconds off her personal best shortly before the Olympic trials and then knocked another two off to win them in 50.98sec ahead of the startled favourite and European bronze medallist, Lee McConnell. It was all, in her own phrase, "scary".

Things have not got any less scary for an athlete who subsequently underlined her rising status by reaching Olympic and World Championship semi-finals. As the second-eldest of seven children living in Stratford, Ohuruogu has been spoken of frequently as a potentially home-grown Olympic medallist when the Games take place in east London in 2012.

When you ask her just how sick she is of being asked about the Stratford connection - in an attempt to disguise the fact that you are asking her about the Stratford connection - she has the good grace to chuckle.

"I kind of have to be repeating myself," Ohuruogu says. "But if it's there, it's there, so I do have to put up with it for the next six years."

The question of whether she sees herself as a quiet and private person receives the considered reply you might expect from a young woman who graduated from University College, London, last summer in linguistics.

"I think ... um, um, um, um, um ... I think I keep myself to myself," the runner responds. "When I compete I like to go in quietly and do what I have to do to race well. I tend to race well when I haven't got people telling me what I have to do. I don't like overcomplicating things."

Her plan before Melbourne was very simple - to train hard enough to beat the Olympic champion - although she had a bit of a wobble when she heard rumours that Williams-Darling was not going to compete after all.

"Then I heard a report that she was coming to claim the gold," Ohuruogu recalled. "She made it sound like it was going to be easy, but I was not going to let that happen."

You will not meet a more determined athlete. Gothenburg should be just another step on her way.

Gothenburg schedule

9.10am Heptathlon starts (100m hurdles)
9.35 Men's 100m rounds start
4.50pm Women's 800m rounds start
5.45 Men's shot-put final
7.10 Women's 10,000m final

9.20am Women's 400m rounds start
10.50 Women's 100m rounds start
4.25 Men's long jump final
6.40 Men's 100m final
6.40 Men's 10,000m final
6.30 Women's hammer final
6.55 Heptathlon ends (800m)

10.10am Men's 200m rounds start
4.45pm Women's triple jump final
5.10 Men's high jump final
6.10 Men's javelin final
6.20 Men's 1500m final
7.10 Women's 400m hurdles final
7.25 Women's 100m final
7.45 Men's 400m final

10.25am Decathlon starts (100m)
10.55 Men's 800m rounds start
11.30 Women's 200m rounds start
5.50pm Women's 400m final
6.40 Men's 400m hurdles final
7.05 Women's 800m final
7.45 Men's 200m final

10.25am Men's 110m hurdles rounds start
5.30pm Women's high jump final
6.25 Men's 3,000m steeplechase final
6.50 Women's 100m hurdles final
7.15 Decathlon ends (1500m)
7.45 Women's 200m final

12.35pm Women's shot-put final
1.30 Women's marathon ends
2.00 Women's pole vault final
2.50 Men's triple jump final
4.15 Women's 5,000m final
4.40 Men's 110m hurdles final

12.45pm Men's pole vault final
1.20 Men's marathon ends
1.35 Women's javelin final
1.50 Women's 4x100m final
2.10 Men's 800m final
2.15 Women's long jump final
2.35 Men's 4x100m final
2.55 Women's 1500m final
3.15 Women's 4x400m final
3.40 Men's 5,000m final
4.10 Men's 4x400m final