World Championships 2013: It's all about family not glory, insists 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu
400m champion is now Britain's greatest female athlete but her siblings keep her feet on ground
Wednesday 14 August 2013
It was the morning after the fight before and Christine Ohuruogu, the Muhammad Ali of British women's track and field, was coming to terms with the significance of the last-gasp knock-out that floored her Botswanan rival in the World Championship 400m final. "I've seen the race back and I cringed," she said, reflecting on how she came to snatch victory from the molars of defeat – a victory that makes her, with two World Championship crowns and one Olympic gold, the greatest female British athlete of all time in terms of global titles.
"How you see it in your head is never how it replays on camera," the Londoner continued. "I am just surprised at how I managed to stay so calm in what looks like a really bad place, but I think experience always wins. It never crossed my mind coming down the home straight that I might not win. For me, a race isn't won until it's finished."
Yes, but 10 metres down coming into the home straight, and still three metres adrift with only 15 to go? That is not so much lost cause territory as dead and buried ground.
That Ohuruogu managed to dig herself back up to victory – by a margin of 0.04sec from the stunned Amantle Montsho – confirmed her credentials as a championship fighter supreme. It had been a similar story when she claimed her first one-lap world title in Osaka in 2007, and her Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008.
To appreciate where that degree of fighting spirit comes from, according to Ohuruogu's long-time coach and guiding light, Lloyd Cowan, you have to go back to the dark days of 2006-07 when his young charge had to face the opprobrium for missing three drugs tests and served a 12-month suspension. When she emerged from her ban to win in Osaka, several columnists back home suggested that her gold medal ought to be discounted from the British tally.
"My conversation with her at that time was, 'If you go through something like this, then nothing should ever faze you in your life, because this is vicious – very, very vicious'," Cowan recalled. "It was my job to get her back in there. I told her, 'I'm not saying it's a hatred thing but think that everyone's your enemy, and if you win everyone loves you. The thing is, the more you win the more they love you'."
Ohuruogu's natural fighting spirit has also been hardened by the experience of a ripped thigh muscle which threatened to curtail her career in 2009 and 2010. "It screwed me over big time," she confessed. "I wouldn't say I was close to packing it in but I was really beginning to question whether this was the right path for me. I was beginning to think, 'Is my time up?'
"I managed to get better but then I got disqualified for a false start at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. I thought, 'Maybe my time is up. Enough is enough. I have an Olympic gold medal. I have already got a World Championship gold medal. Maybe I was being greedy'."
It was Cowan who persuaded Ohuruogu to carry on. Olympic silver on home ground in Stratford last summer showed that the East End girl was getting back to her best and with her grandstand finish on Monday night, she not only reclaimed her former place at the global summit of quarter-miling but also produced the best time of her life. Her winning time of 49.41sec broke Kathy Cook's British record, which had stood since the year Ohuruogu was born, 1984.
Cowan, who watched the dramatic dénouement unfold on a television outside the toilet at the warm-up track – "I get too wound up to watch in the stadium" – is convinced that his charge can go significantly quicker yet: "She has more in the tank."
As the first female British athlete to claim three global (World Championship or Olympic) titles, though, Ohuruogu can already claim to be the greatest of all time.
Not that the quietly spoken, introspective linguistics graduate was giving herself the fanfare treatment. Asked whether she considered herself "The Greatest", she replied emphatically: "No. I'm Christine. I just go and train.
"My sister's here. My crazy brothers are at home. That's what keeps me happy…I don't do this for the titles."
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