Athletics: Give wonder woman a break

The truth is that Ohuruogu has served her time and does not deserve ignorant slurs
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The Independent Online

Looking over Christine Ohuruogu's shoulder, there is a sign that says: "Impossible is nothing." Perhaps it is true. If Ohuruogu can jump on a plane to the World Championships after just a couple of races in the rain at the Scottish Championships and charge down the home straight in Nagai Stadium to global 400m glory, maybe anything is possible for this British wonder woman of track and field. Then again, no matter what powers she may possess, the young Londoner will probably never break Marita Koch's untouchable world record, or pierce through the blinkered perceptions of the misguided souls who have branded her remarkable gold medal feat as wholly tarnished.

Having run 49.61sec just three weeks after returning from the wilderness of her one-year ban, Ohuruogu is likely to be a serious threat to Kathy Cook's ancient British record of 49.43 when she runs against Sanya Richards at the Weltklasse meeting in Zurich next Friday night. Looking further down the line, though, Koch's global mark of 47.60 must seem like a fantasy figure even to this superhuman Brit. It has stood unchallenged since a 1985 World Cup meeting in Canberra.

In an extensive examination of Stasi files for their revelatory 1991 book 'Doping-Dokumente', Brigitte Berendock and Werner Franke uncovered a list of dosages of Oral-Turinabol administered to Koch as part of the state-run drug programme that fuelled the formidable East German women's track-and-field team. They also unearthed a letter from Koch to the pharmaceutical firm Jenapharm in which she complained that Barbel Wockel, one of her East German team-mates, had been given stronger doses of the anabolic steroid because her uncle was company president.

Perhaps those who felt moved to question whether Ohuruogu should even be in the British team here ought to strike up a campaign to have such fraudulent landmarks removed from the record books. Or maybe they simply do not know enough about the subject on which they have pronounced their moralising snap judgements.

"I just put it down to ignorance," Ohuruogu says. "If people really want to find the truth, they'll find it. My whole circumstances make it a nice story, I accept that. And I believe people are always going to want to buy into that. I don't think it's something that's going to go away too quickly. The cynicism will always be there.

"I don't really want to try to convince anyone. If you have a brain and you want to use it, the facts are there if you wish to see them. If you don't wish to see them, I'm not going to put my life on hold."

The facts are that Ohuruogu was not around when a UK Sport drug-testing team turned up unannounced at her usual training venue in the East End of London one morning in July last year. Having discovered that the Mile End Stadium was booked for a school sports day meeting, she had travelled to Crystal Palace instead. In her haste to join up with her training group, she forgot to inform the authorities of her hasty change of plan.

It was her third such missed test in 12 months. Another fact: in the past 12 months there have been 126 missed tests logged by UK Sport. Last summer, after winning an 800m bronze medal at the European Championships in Gothenburg, Becky Lyne volunteered the information that she was sitting on two missed tests. "I wanted to show my support for Christine, knowing how easy it is to miss tests," she says. "I'd just left university and was living all over the place – with my parents, with my boyfriend's parents. Now I'm totally paranoid about missing a third."

Despite her own ordeal, Ohuruogu says she has no paranoia herself about missing another test. "No," she says. "I think I've found something that will work for me. I've got a set time every day when I'm available. I've got my own place now and I'm there between seven and eight every morning.

"Before, I chopped and changed the times that I was available because I trained at different venues. I also avoided having slots at home because I have such a big family [five brothers, one sister, two parents]. Now I have my own place and I train at one venue."

The testers have not been slow to drop in, either: 14 times at the last count, according to Ohuruogu's coach, Lloyd Cowan. "If anything, I think it's best if I do get as many as I do," the 400m world champion says. "I can say, 'Look, there's absolutely nothing wrong with me. Everything's been done by the book'."

This is no Ben Johnson, the steroid-charged sprinter. This is a young woman who has made a big mistake and paid a high price. And who certainly does not warrant the crass ordeal of having her picture printed underneath a headline proclaiming "Please don't make this the face of our London Olympics" – from the same newspaper stable which happens to employ someone who actually failed a drugs test as a "star columnist".

But then, as the victims of the once-banned Shane Warne would testify, the art of spin can be a cruelly deceptive one.

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