World Championships: Perri Shakes-Drayton sprints away from Olympic woes


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The Independent Online

It is two decades since Sally Gunnell glided over 10 hurdles in Stuttgart to be crowned world champion with a then world record.

Just three British women have been crowned world champion in the intervening time: Paula Radcliffe, Christine Ohuruogu and Jessica Ennis-Hill, but there is a sense that 1500 miles away from Stuttgart in Moscow, Perri Shakes-Drayton could follow suit.

As things stand, the major obstacle in her way – bar the hurdles on the track – is Zuzana Hejnova, a model of consistency this season who comfortably beat the Londoner at the Anniversary Games. But the 400m hurdles has a strange ability to upset the apple cart; one only needs look at Felix Sanchez's surprise gold in the men's event at the London Games for evidence.

For her part, Shakes-Drayton, who gets under way in the heats this morning, feels she is getting closer, whether she can do so come Thursday's final is another matter.

"I'm keeping her on her toes and I'm thinking I need to catch her, I need to beat her," she says. "So it makes me want to train harder and run faster too."

She has spent the past days watching the pair's last race in London with her coach Chris Zah, analysing both hers and Hejnova's approach and then thinking "what's the next thing we've got to work on?"

There are few more talkative members of the British team, the words hurtling out of Shakes-Drayton's mouth at breakneck speed, but she admits there have been few words exchanged with her chief rival.

Asked if they talk much, she says: "Not really, just 'well done' and 'when's your next race?' That's it. We have a mutual respect for each other, as with all the other girls in the 400m hurdles."

The 24-year-old and her coach have targeted the last 100 metres as key to deciding the outcome of the event. For now, Hejnova's superior technique and greater experience have kept her in front of her rival at that crucial stage.

"It's that last bit, isn't it? It's the last 100m," adds Shakes-Drayton. "It all just needs to go well there and it should be a good race between me and her."

Her preparations for these championships have gone noticeably better than events at the Olympic Stadium over a year ago, just a short bus ride from the family home where she grew up.

Then, she had been one of the form athletes but injury curtailed her ambitions and she did not even qualify for the final, which has stopped her from making any ambitious targets.

"Let's take it back to last year," she recalls. "I ran well leading up to the Olympics, I ran a PB and we were all excited, even myself, and then look what happened. I'm not dwelling on it, but I'm just saying I can't get too ahead of myself. I need to make the final first. Yes I have got a chance but you can't base it on a chance. I still have to do what I have to do and perform."

To date, the most major setback appears to have been when she and the sprinter Asha Philip locked themselves out of their hotel room at the holding camp in Barcelona, having to call the maintenance man to let them back in.

Of that whole Olympic experience, she says: "It built me into the person I am today, the athlete I am today." She also says it means that any niggle she feels, she goes straight to the physio to ensure it is nothing more serious. Thankfully, in 2013 it hasn't and she has had the best season of her career. There was the double gold at the European Indoor Championships, another gold at the European Team Championships and a chance at redemption, to a certain extent, with her second place at the Anniversary Games.

As for emulating Gunnell in terms of times, she is still some way off. Her personal best of 53.67sec is nearly a second off that time set by her compatriot in Stuttgart. Shakes-Drayton has not spoken to Gunnell about those days but says merely: "I would love for my name to be beside that British record. I don't think about times, I just run."

Moscow must-sees: Today's highlights

8.05am Men's 400m hurdles round one (D Greene)

8.50am Women's 400m hurdles round one (P Shakes-Drayton)

6.15pm Women's 400m final (C Ohuruogu, A Montsho)

6.30pm Men's 110m hurdles final (A Merritt, W Sharman)

6.50pm Women's 100m final (S-A Fraser-Pryce, C Jeter)

TV BBC/Eurosport