At the end of the opening night at the Palace, day one of the Aviva London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, Christine Ohuruogu was whisked into an open-topped convertible Alfa Romeo and paraded around the south London track with other members of the soon-to-be-Beijing-bound British athletics team. It was fair to say that in the 400 metres some half-an-hour earlier the young woman from Stratford in London's East End had not quite gotinto overdrive.
The 24-year-old did produce a winning performance in her final race beforethe Olympic Games, her fourth success out of four at her specialist distance thus far this summer, finishing 0.47sec clear of her fellow Beijing medal hopeful and British team-mate Nicola Sanders. Her time, though, 50.80sec, will not have exactly struck the fear of god, or anything else for that matter, into the hearts of her global rivals.
It was Ohuruogu's fastest of the season, but it only elevated her from 24th to joint 18th on the world ranking list. Sanya Richards, the American most widely fancied to bring home the women's 400m gold from Beijing, has run faster on eight occasions this summer and broken 50sec twice, clocking 49.86sec in Athens and 49.89sec at the US trialsin Eugene.
Still, Ohuruogu is significantly ahead of where she was at the same stage of last season, not to mention where she was at the corresponding juncture in 2006. At the Crystal Palace meeting two years ago she finished seventh and last in 52.43sec, an embarrassinglylong way behind Richards, who won in 49.05sec.
When she saw Dave Collins, the performance director of UK Athletics, approaching her with an ashen expression on his face, she presumed he was about to inform her that she had been dropped from the British team for the forthcoming European Championships in Gothenburg. He was actually coming to notify her that she had registered a third missed drugs test.
The woman who had won the Commonwealth 400m title in such supreme style at the Melbourne Cricket Ground just four months previously had indeed been demoted from the British team for Gothenburg, but also from all events for 12 months thereafter. She was serving the last few days of her suspension when last year's Palace meeting took place. It was on 11 August that she returned to competition, clocking 53.09sec at the Scottish Championships in Glasgow. Eighteen days later she was running 49.61secat the Nagai Stadium in Osaka, snatching the World Championship crown from Sanders by 0.04sec in a famous British one-two.
"Yeah, I am ahead of where I was at this time last year," Ohuruogu reflected after completing her motor-driven Beijing send-off at the Palace. "Very much so." Given her invaluable knack of improving through the rounds at major champion-ships – at the Commonwealth Games in 2006, where she beat Tonique Williams, the reigning world champion, in the final, and at the World Championships last year – it is safe to assume that there is a good deal yet to come this summer from the linguistics graduate, who has spent much of the season thus far honing her speed at 200m.
"We came here to win and we won, so the job's done," Ohuruogu added, speaking not in the royal plural but with her coach, Lloyd Cowan – a master at getting her to peak when it matters – in mind. "Yeah, there is more in the tank."
We will discover pre-cisely how much gas there is in the 400m heats in the Bird's Nest Stadium on Saturday 16 August, the semi-finals 24 hours later, and in the Olympic final two days after that. Richards remains a strong favourite in the eyes of most, but could she have possibly shot her bolt by contesting so many quarter-miles already this summer while Ohuruogu has been keeping her powder dry for the major battle?
Certainly the Jamaican-born American's latest outing, a win in Stockholm in 50.38sec last Tuesday, will not have filled the British world champion – or, indeed, Sanders – with any great dread.
Not that Ohuruogu was monitoring it from base. "I couldn't get it on my TV," she said. "It's stupid. I don't know how I can get SetantaSports and I can't get Eurosport."Reuse content