It was fair to say that Donna Fraser was in something of a spin. "I'm just doing my washing," she said after returning from her Wednesday-night training. The question is, having already made her mark on this indoor track season, might the great survivor of British athletics be planning to complete yet another Olympic cycle?
At 36, the Croydon Harrier is a veteran of four of them. But the fact that she didn't get to the start line for the 4 x 400m relay squad in Beijing is the reason why she is treading the boards this winter, with her sights on next month's European Indoor Championships in Turin and before that the Aviva Trials and UK Championships in Sheffield next Saturday and Sunday.
The plan had been for Fraser to hang up her spikes after Beijing. That was until she endured the frustration of making the British team but not the chosen quartet for the relay heats or final. "To go there and not get to run really was quite devastating," she said.
"You have to put your professional head on and warm up with the rest of the team but you don't get to set foot on the Beijing track. My aim had been to finish on an Olympics, and after all of those years of competing I couldn't just end my career like that.
"My family were saying, 'You can't do it. Give it another go'. And I spoke to my coach, Ayo Falola, and he said, 'Well, just do the indoor season, have some fun and see how it goes'. I've just gone back to basics. I'm not on Lotteryfunding any more so I've not gone warm-weather training. I've just been slogging it here in the cold. It's going all right. I'm kind of surprising myself."
As a rare indoor competitor, Fraser is surprised to find herself top of the European rankings for 200m (with a time of 23.38sec) and fifth at 400m (with 53.32sec) after the Birmingham Games last weekend. The shorter distance no longer features on the programme for the European Indoor Championships but it provided Fraser with her one national title on the boards to date, back in 1998. She also has a European indoor bronze medal for the 4 x 400m relay, which she earned in Madrid four years ago.
The 400m in Birmingham was her first-ever tilt at the distance in an individual indoor race. Outdoors she is one of only five British women who have broken 50sec for the quarter-mile – along with Kathy Cook, Katharine Merry, Christine Ohuruogu and Nicola Sanders. Her personal best, 49.79, dates back to the unforgettable night of the Olympic final in Sydney in 2000, when Cathy Freeman – with whom Fraser had trained at Eton all summer – struck gold for Australia and Merry took bronze for Britain. Fraser finished fourth, missing a medal by a tantalising 0.07sec.
Nine years and three Achilles operations later, the long-legged Londoner is still going strong. She first came to prominence in 1991, winning the 400m at the European Junior Championships in Thessaloniki. Paula Radcliffe was in the team back then, finishing fourth in the 3,000m. Might they be Olympic team-mates in London in 2012? "Oh, I don't know about that," Fraser laughed. "But as they say, never say never. Who knows what's going to happen. I just want to take it season by season, have some fun, and see where it gets me."