Mighty Ottey finally entering the home straight

The clock on the scoreboard was showing 10.45am when the eight teams lined up for heat one in the opening round of the women's 4 x 100m relay on day five of the European Championships yesterday. Looking down at the familiar figure limbering up in lane six at the head of the home straight, it was as though time had stood still for 18 years. She was wearing the sky blue vest of her adopted Slovenia rather than the yellow and green of her native Jamaica, but there was Merlene Ottey getting ready to rumble into sprinting action, just as she had done down the same stretch at the 1992 Olympic Games.

Back then, she was already regarded as something of a golden oldie – well, a bronzed Thirtysomething, at any rate. She finished third in the 200m final, aged 32.

Eighteen years on, two months past her 50th birthday, Ottey was making history yesterday as the oldest athlete ever to compete in the European Championships. She looked as lithesome as ever, little different even to when she ran her first major championship race. That was on 28 July 1980, in the first-round 200m heats at the Moscow Olympics, between the two epic middle-distance duels between Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe.

Ottey was 20 at the time. She won her heat and went on to take bronze in the final – the first of a record haul of nine track-and-field medals in a record seven Olympic appearances. Only one of her relay team-mates yesterday was even alive then, Kristina Zumer. She was six months old. At 30, she was the second eldest member of the Slovenian quartet ahead of Tina Murn, 27, and Sabina Veit, 24.

Zumer ran the third leg, passing the baton to Ottey, who might have set off down the home straight with a Zimmer frame, such is the state of her lower back after three decades of explosive sprinting. Five titanium screws hold her hamstring and gluteus together and this time last year she could only walk downstairs backwards because of an inflamed left knee. Her doctor told her to quit or risk ending up in a wheelchair.

"I thought that was it," Ottey confessed. "I thought I was going to have to give up." And yet here she was in the Montjuic Olympic arena, collecting the baton from Zumer and tearing off down the home straight as fast as her long legs could take her. Which was not as fast as they used to.

Ottey could not haul her battered, half-century-old body into a qualifying position. She took over in seventh place and stayed there. "I'm a bit disappointed," the grand dame of the sprint game said. "I was hoping that some others would make a mistake and we might get into the final.

"I only knew a couple of weeks ago that I'd definitely be here and I've only run 11.67sec for the 100m this year. I'm much slower than I was in Moscow 30 years ago. Still, it's great to have run here. I still enjoy it." What about the final finish line to her marathon life in the fast lane? "I'll complete this season, then start training again in November for next year," she said. "I am taking it one season at a time. But I don't see the end at the moment, no.

"Next year I'll try to qualify for the World Championships in South Korea. We'll see about the 2012 Olympics after that."

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions