Athletics: Ohuruogu celebrates victory in battle to run at Olympics

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The Independent Online

Christine Ohuruogu, one of the poster athletes in London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, has regained her chance of appearing there in person – and indeed at next year's Games in Beijing – after winning her appeal against a lifelong ban by the British Olympic Association.

The 23-year-old world 400 metres champion, brought up in Stratford within a couple of miles of where the main Olympic stadium will be hosting the Games five years from now, had the news confirmed yesterday morning after she had attended a three-and-a-half hour hearing with the Sports Dispute Resolutions Panel the previous day. A BOA statement said: "The panel decided that Christine Ohuruogu's appeal had been successful due to significant mitigating circumstances."

Ohuruogu thus became the third British competitor suspended for missing three dates on which they were supposed to be available in the event of a doping test who has subsequently reversed the automatic BOA bye-law imposed for significant doping infringements.

Last November judo player Peter Cousins regained his right to compete in future Olympics, and world triathlon champion Tim Don did likewise last summer. The BOA are to consider the possibility of altering their bye-law, with discussions expected to take place in the lead-up to next year's Games, but are broadly happy that the safeguard introduced unilaterally in 1992 has been generally effective as a deterrent against cheating.

Ever since Ohuruogu's suspension was announced on the eve of last year's European Championships in Gothenburg, there has been a groundswell of opinion in sporting circles that she had been guilty of misjudgment rather than dishonesty in not being where she had told testers she would be on three occasions.

The panel that imposed Ohuruogu's ban went on record as saying that she had been guilty of "forgetfulness" and although her appeal against the one-year suspension to the Court of Arbitration for Sport failed, the ruling there found "no suggestion that she is guilty of taking drugs in order to enhance her performance".

Ohuruogu, who has in the past been less than clear about accepting her part in an episode that threatened to wreck her career, was unequivocal yesterday about her position.

"I accept full responsibility for missing the tests," she told a news conference at her new training venue at the Picketts Lock High Performance Centre in north London. "The rule was there and the punishment was there. But I can honestly say I am not a drugs cheat."

Ohuruogu admitted, after spending an hour talking to reporters, that she had had an anxious night awaiting the news. "It was a little bit anxious because I hadn't heard anything the previous evening and I was having to keep waiting for my lawyer to phone."

The good news, when it came, arrived via a call from her agent, Sue Barrett. "I gave a deep breath," she said, "I was just letting go of it all. I felt like I was making a fresh start, and it was nice to get rid of the excess baggage."

Ohuruogu was named in the British team for the World Championships in Osaka only two days after completing her suspension on 5 August, and, having trained with blinkered determination all summer after having two operations on her Achilles tendons, she became a global gold medallist before the month was up, adding to a collection that already included the Commonwealth title from the previous year.

Although her achievements have provoked scepticism in some quarters, she was named British Athlete of the Year by the British Athletics Writers' Association. Ohuruogu, who said she had contemplated retiring after her appeal against her one-year ban was turned down in April, told The Independent last month that she would continue running even if her Olympic appeal failed. Now she is free to challenge the American who finished top of the 400m rankings last season, Sanya Richards.

"Athletes should make a note of what happened to me," she added. "I would tell them to get as much help as possible from their coaches, from the people around them, just to remind them not to miss the test."

Ed Warner, chairman of UK Athletics, commented: "Christine did commit a doping related offence, but we felt the one-year ban was a proportionate punishment to fit the offence not the lifetime ban. We do, however, remain supportive of BOA's by-law to punish those who are guilty."

UK Sport's chief executive John Steele added: "We would argue that a more sensible approach would be to impose such an Olympic ban only in the case of a 'serious' offence – namely one that carries at least a two-year period of ineligibility under the Code."