Ofili and Proctor jump on British bandwagon

Track-and-field hopes for London 2012 have been boosted by two arrivals from overseas who stand to gain from their new affiliation.
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The Independent Online

Typical! You wait for an age for a new 2012 contender to come along, and then two of them come out of the blue – the red, white and blue. Like London buses, Tiffany Ofili and Shara Proctor have turned up, providing British athletics with increased hope of delivering home success in the Olympic arena the summer after next.

Neither has worn the red, white and blue of the Great Britain vest before but both are capable of flying the Union flag in finals in 2012 – if not pressing for places on the podium. Both have already made an impact in global championships.

Ofili was a bronze medallist in the 100m hurdles at the World Junior Championships in Beijing in 2006, competing for the United States. Proctor finished sixth in the long jump at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009, representing the Caribbean isle of Anguilla.

Both have British passports and have switched international allegiance to Great Britain with the 2012 Olympics in mind. In doing so, they are following in the footsteps of two recruits from overseas who made the major championship-winning grade as naturalised British athletes in recent years.

The Jamaican-born Germaine Mason won Olympic high jump silver in Beijing in 2008. The American-born Michael Bingham won 400m silver at the European Championships in Barce-lona in July this year. Both have British fathers.

Ofili has a British mother. She has spent all of her life in Michigan. She hails from Ypsilanti, where one James Newell Osterberg Jnr was raised in a trailer park; he became better known as Iggy Pop. A pharmacy student atthe University of Michigan, Ofili decided her best hope of making an impression as an Olympic athlete is with the land of her mother. Perhaps wisely so.

In 2008 she clocked 12.76sec in the semi-finals of the 100m hurdles at the US trials but missed out on a place in the final by 0.003sec. Her best time this year is 12.85, good enough for 24th place in the world rankings, but with nine Americans ahead of her. The best time by a British athlete this year is 12.89, recorded by the world heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.

Ofili's lifetime best is 12.73, which is 0.07 quicker than Angie Thorp's British record. "I am ecstatic to represent Great Britain in athletics henceforth," the 23-year-old said. "I will continue to work hard and improve upon my performance to be the best world-class athlete that I can be. I am looking forward to what the future has in store."

Having not represented the United States since 2006, Ofili meets the International Association of Athletics Federations' three-year international quarantine period. She intends to base herself in Britain during the outdoor track season and will arrive early next summer as Mrs Tiffany Porter. She marries her fiancé,Jeff Porter, in May.

Ofili has been placed on "development" level Lottery funding by UK Athletics. Proctor is on "podium" level, thanks to her performance at last year's World Championships. She finished sixth in the long jump final in Berlin, missing a place on the podium by just 9cm.

The 22-year-old, a sports management graduate from the University of Florida, qualifies for Britain becauseAnguilla is a British overseas territory.Anguilla has no National Olympic Committee and, as she is a British passport-holder, Great Britain was a natural choice when it came to seeking an Olympic-affiliated country.

"My lifelong dream has always been to compete at the highest level in track and field," she said. "I am therefore thrilled that I can potentially compete for Great Britain at the 2012 Olympics. It will certainly be an honour to represent the United Kingdom."

Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, said he was "happy to welcome Shara into the team". The Dutchman added: "She's a high-calibre athlete who has proven to be able to make finals at global championships. We are not strong in women's field events at the moment. The fact that Shara has decided to represent Britain from now on will make the team stronger."

For Van Commenee, the acquisition of Proctor and Ofili will help to plug some of the conspicuous gaps in the British team. Proctor stands 31st in the world rankings in the long jump this year, with a personal best jump of 6.69m. The best by a Briton is 6.51, again by Ennis. The best by a British long jump specialist is 6.39 by Jade Johnson, who has been plagued by injury since she won European and Commonwealth silver medals in 2002. Proctor also has the potential to become an international-classtriple jumper.

Van Commenee's objective is to deliver eight track-and-field medals in 2012, but only two British athletes feature in the top three in the world rankings in 2010. Ennis tops the heptathlon rankings, while Phillips Idowu stands second to the Frenchman Teddy Tamgho in the triple jump.

There are only three other Britons in the top eight. Dai Greene and Perri Shakes-Drayton are sixth in the men's and women's 400m hurdles, while Lisa Dobriskey is seventh in the women's 1500m.