Athletics: 'I love it so much I'll keep running even if Olympic ban stays'

Suspended from the sport, Christine Ohuruogu battled back to claim the world title against all odds. Britain's Athlete of the Year tells Mike Rowbottom about her amazing journey
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The Independent Online

Christine Ohuruogu, surprised and delighted in equal measure to have been voted British Athlete of the Year at the weekend, has vowed that she will not contemplate retiring even if she does not receive clearance to run at next summer's Beijing Olympics.

And, in the wake of Marion Jones's retirement from the sport earlier this month after a confession of doping abuse, the 23-year-old Londoner has effectively reiterated an old saying in which she passionately believes – cheats never prosper.

Ohuruogu, who provoked widespread debate in August by winning the world 400 metres title just 24 days after returning from a one-year suspension for missing three scheduled doping tests, is still awaiting the result of her appeal against the British Olympic Association's ban on her competing at any future Games, with a hearing expected next month.

Six months ago, failure to overturn a one-year ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport prompted Ohuruogu to contemplate quitting the sport. But her perspective soon changed – and she insists it will remain the same.

"At the time that was probably how I felt," she reflected yesterday, three days after accepting her award at the British Athletics Writers' Association dinner in London's West End. "It was probably just a fleeting thought – I felt like there was no point in going on. But when you come back to work you think about things differently, when the emotions and the knee-jerk reactions have gone.

"After the World Championships I realised that this is what I enjoy doing. When I look back at how I pushed myself in training on my own I think I couldn't have done that unless I loved running so much.

"There were some times when my coach, Lloyd Cowan, really had to give me a kick to keep me going. But I'm glad I didn't give up during my very low points.

"I've sacrificed a lot for this. No matter what happens I will still carry on anyway. Even if the BOA decision doesn't go my way, I hope I won't give the sport up."

Given the rough ride Ohuruogu has had in the media since it was announced on the eve of last year's European Championships that she had failed to meet UK Athletics doping inspectors on three occasions when she had guaranteed to be present, the huge coverage given to the fall of America's former sprint idol Jones was likely to resonate strongly with her. It did.

"When I saw the pictures of Marion Jones crying after she had admitted taking drugs, I felt like the nails were being put into the coffin of athletics, I must admit," Ohuruogu reflected. "It makes it hard for other sprinters now. There is a chance that people will say, 'Wow. I don't trust any of you guys any more'.

"But why should she have gained anything from cheating? Ultimately, it's a good thing that she has been caught. I believe that no matter what athletes take to cheat, they will always be found out in the end, whether it is five or 10 years down the line. That's what makes me still have hope in the sport. People will always get caught, and Marion Jones did get caught. She was in tears because she had done wrong. There is justice."

Such a statement will no doubt cause an ironic raising of eyebrows among Ohuruogu's detractors in the media. Among those who accept the verdicts of the original independent panel that enforced her ban – she was found guilty of "forgetfulness" – and of the CAS panel which considered her appeal – which found "no suggestion that she is guilty of taking drugs in order to enhance her performance" – her words will merely confirm that she is an athlete lacking in judgement rather than integrity.

Certainly, Ohuruogu has taken much comfort from an award adjudicated upon by close followers of her sport.

"It was a very positive award for me," she said. "I felt it meant that people maybe had a better understanding of what actually went on. Journalists are not people I like very much, so to be voted Athlete of the Year by people I don't like is quite strange.

"This time last year I got quite a rough time in the press, and again after the World Championships. I have been boxed into a corner, trying to fight for everything, and it has been very frustrating. I was beginning to feel as if I didn't win very much at the World Championships, so this was a very big accolade.

"The award ceremony was the first time I had seen the race again. I don't generally like watching myself running, although we will be looking at races to try and pick up technical pointers next year. It was really weird watching that race. It was like it happened to someone else."

Ohuruogu is hopeful that Britain's performance in that world 400m final – where European indoor champion Nicola Sanders took silver behind her – will prove inspirational for aspiring young athletes.

"You hope that it will help other British athletes to go out and do well," she said. "I think it's definitely good for British athletics that we have the world gold and silver medallists at 400 metres. It shows you don't have to be an American or a Russian athlete to do well."

Although she is sensibly making no comment about her forthcoming appointment with the BOA's independent panel, she cannot keep a sense of excitement out of her voice as she contemplates next season.

"This year has been a complete one-off," she said. "Obviously, I don't want these circumstances to occur again. I hope that next year will be different. I'm just hoping that I get it right when it matters.

"My journey over the last year has been so much different to how I had ever expected it to be. I spent the time focusing on the World Championships. That was my goal – it was tunnel vision. It was all I was going for. That's where I felt I could really make my name and reinstate myself.

"I have come through a very up and down time. Winning that medal – the whole thing was exhausting. I was so tired there was nothing I could do to lift myself back to the level I had reached in Osaka. I could have ended the season there and then, although I went on to race in Zurich, Berlin and Shanghai."

She acknowledges that her brief and astonishing season would have been completed with a victory over the American who failed to qualify for the 400m in Osaka but ended the year as world No 1, Sanya Richards.

But that circumstance is swiftly converted into a motivating tool by a young woman who has used adversity to good effect in the last couple of years, overturning the favourite, the Olympic and world champion, Tonique Williams-Darling, to win the Commonwealth title in 2006 and concentrating on proving everyone wrong at this summer's Osaka World Championships.

"If I'd beaten Sanya after the World Championships it would have been good, but that gives me something to aim for going into next year," she said, adding with an ominous chuckle: "Maybe if I'd beaten her already I would get complacent. Now I have a whole winter to work out how to beat Sanya Richards. That's how I work. I seem to do better when I get really mad and have a really big challenge in front of me. I hate saying that, but it's true I think. That's when I operate best."

Not that Richards is the only rival she will be looking out for should she be allowed back into the Olympic arena. "You can never rule anyone out," she said. "Look what happened to me this year."

It does, indeed, take some believing.

Forgotten tests and a final to remember: 400m runner's luck goes full circle

6 August 2006

Ohuruogu is handed a provisional suspension by UK Athletics after missing three out-of-competition drugs tests over the previous 10 months.

15 September

Receives one-year ban, backdated to 6 Aug, and an automatic lifelong ban by the British Olympic Association (BOA).

11 October

Appeals to Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) against length of suspension.

4 April 2007

CAS rejects Ohuruogu's appeal, stating the ban was 'proportional as a matter of law'.

29 July

Lodges an appeal with the BOA.

5 August

Drugs suspension ends.

7 August

Surprisingly, called up to Great Britain team for the World Championships in Osaka.

11 August

Competes in Glasgow, winning 200m in her first event since the London Grand Prix in July 2006.

26–27 August

Runs season-best times to win heats and semi-finals in Osaka.

29 August

Wins final in 49.61 seconds before announcing intention to overturn BOA's ban.

28 October

Named Athlete of Year by British Athletics Writers' Association.

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