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.

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?