Christine Ohuruogu: I’ve still got that will to win

Although she claims not to be fastest person in her family, 400m gold winner at World Championships has many remaining goals, she tells Matt Majendie

As Christine Ohuruogu pulls out of the car park at Lee Valley Athletics Centre, she does not feel like a world champion. Watch the clip of her dipping, almost staggering over the line in the 400m at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow and even now it seems hard to believe.

Has there been a more nail-biting individual sporting performance this year by a British athlete than that of the Londoner? By the first bend, American Natasha Hastings was already on her shoulder and, while Hastings faded coming into the home straight, Ohuruogu seemingly had too much ground to make up on the pre-race favourite Amantle Montsho.

But stride after stride of the blue Mondo track, she reeled in her one-lap rival, finally producing a lunge for the line. No one there, Ohuruogu included, was quite sure whether that desperate dip was sufficient to win gold.

Such a doyenne has she become of the dramatic finish, it is no wonder her coach, Lloyd Cowan, could not watch in person, instead preferring to be in the bowels of the Luzhniki Stadium with a television for company.

It is four months since that second world title – adding to the gold won in Osaka, Japan, six years earlier – and five years since her career high at the Olympics. But she does not currently feel on top of running in her family, let alone the world.

“I’m getting whipped by my sister in training,” she says of 20-year-old Vicky, who was added to Britain’s 4x400m senior relay set-up last season and has showed promise of following in her older sibling’s admirable footsteps.

But as Ohuruogu mulls over her current struggles in training, the first of a number of infectious giggles comes to the fore. The laughter is not nervous, it comes from genuine amusement, from her love of her sport.

Few sports personalities are more engaging when on form. At times she can be distant, at others captivating in conversation, able, unlike most athletes, to skip subjects from Lee Valley to literature – a nod to her degree in linguistics from University College London.But then again, she is not your typical athlete by her own admission.

“For me, I’m different,” she says, “in a strange position to other people, very different to others. I have my goals and push on with those. Sometimes you stop and celebrate too much then get passed and I don’t want to do that.

“Take Moscow. I don’t really think about it that much. Maybe I should think about it more. It’s not that I didn’t, that I don’t enjoy it but I can think more about it when I retire.”

The journey to Moscow had been harrowing from the moment of that Olympic triumph in Beijing, and lesser athletes might well have hung up their spikes, deflated and defeated. She relinquished her world title in Berlin in 2009, a hamstring problem curtailing her build-up to the World Championships, where she finished fifth.

Then, in 2010, she tore her left quad from her hip and the problem repeatedly hampered her, curtailing her athletic campaigns. It was not until the latter part of the 2011 season that she finally started getting back to anywhere near her potential at that year’s World Championships only to be disqualified in her heat of the 400m, one of the first victims of the IAAF one false start rule.

Come the London Olympics, she was desperate to match what she had achieved four years earlier, only to come up just short of America’s Sanya Richards-Ross and end up with silver, a more than admirable medal considering her previous difficulties.

“People said I couldn’t get back and, at times, I thought I was pretty much down and out,” Ohuruogu reflects. “2011 was a horrible year – one of the worst I’ve ever had. Nothing seemed to work at all, then I was disqualified when I was on my way up. It was pretty awful. This wasn’t where I was supposed to finish.

“I felt going into London I wasn’t panicking but that it was a concern I might not be all right. I was asking myself to run in London and recreate the form I had four years ago. That’s a tough ask of your body. I had some doubts. Could I realistically ask myself to do this? Was it sensible to expect so much of myself? It was virtually impossible with the awful injuries I’d had.

“I didn’t quite get there in London but it got the ball rolling for me again. I was ready and after that there were no limits on myself.”

The tears of the build-up to London and Moscow have very much been replaced by laughter. For one, her career has come full circle with her returning to the top of the sport. There is a feeling that there is nothing much left for her to achieve.

But hers is a laugh that also disguises a serious and on-going will to win. So, approaching 30 – she will celebrate the mark in May – how does she keep motivated?

“There’s still things that I want and the motivation is always there,” she says. “The thing is that I love what I do, I just love it, and thankfully I’ve been blessed with a gift.”

The immediate motivating factors are the Commonwealth Games and European Championships in the summer of 2014. “I’ve a feeling that I’ll be doing both,” she says. “I don’t know in what capacity I’ll be doing the Europeans. Everything depends on how fit I am. It’s hard to peak for both.”

More immediately, she also has her sights set on the World Indoors in Sopot, Poland, in March, although in the 4x400m relay rather than the individual event, and with the same caveat. She adds: “Again, I’d like to do that if I can get fit in time. As defending champions in the relay it would be nice to do that but I’m taking the slowly approach in getting back.”

More broadly, she talks with a child-like enthusiasm about the year ahead for British athletes. She describes the Commonwealth Games as “the ideal place for youngsters to make their mark on the global stage”, the perfect springboard for British athletes to get ready for the World Championships the following year. “I genuinely believe next year will be really exciting for our athletes,” she says, “if people make the right decisions and stuff. I think it will be a really good year.”

Coach Cowan, a former 110m and 400m hurdler, will be the one constant in her corner in her own personal quest, the calming influence as well as the person seemingly able to prepare his athlete just right for the big occasion.

There is an overwhelming fondness between the pair. Ohuruogu says of her coach: “Lloyd knows me very well, what to do to get the exact result. It’s a great relationship to have when you can just trust each other. He likes to call himself a wily old fox, and he’s incredibly sharp. I trust him completely and we’ve learned together – we’re still learning.”

Ohuruogu, who is on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year shortlist, claims Cowan still despairs at the way she runs her races and the manner in which she still has room for improvement. Off the back of last season, when she finally claimed Kathy Cook’s British record set at the 1984 Olympics, with a time of 49.41 seconds in that Moscow final, the despair must surely be diminishing – although the sense from Ohuruogu is that there is yet more to come in 2014 and beyond.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam