From the end of her street in Bow, Perri Shakes-Drayton has been able to see the bowl of the London Olympic arena for some time now. On the other side of town last night, as she crossed the line in the opening track race of the Aviva London Grand Prix, the 23-year-old east ender must have been able to see a vision of the 2012 Olympic medal rostrum.
When the young woman with the double-barrelled surname shot down the home straight of Montjuic Stadium in Barcelona two years ago, to snatch bronze at the European Champion-ships, she was mooted as a possible contender for a place on the podium in 2012. Since that balmy Catalan evening, however, Shakes-Drayton had been no great shakes. Until last night.
Less than two weeks out from the home from home Games, she not so much seized the hand of opportunity as threatened to rip it off. She lined up 21st on the world rankings, with a season's best of 55.21 seconds. After one high-octane lap, she finished with a lifetime best of 53.77sec, an advancement of 0.51sec on her 2010 Barcelona time, and catapulted herself to joint second in the world rankings.
It was a carpe diem performance that had the close-to-packed Palace crowd on their feet, roaring in approval. It probably also had the established favourites for Olympic medals quaking in their spikes. Indeed, several of them were left trailing distantly in the wake of Shakes-Drayton, who has some family pedigree on the Olympic medal front. Her father, Patrick Drayton, was the fitness trainer of Lennox Lewis, the 1988 Olympic heavyweight boxing champion.
Almost a second down on Shakes-Drayton in the runners-up position was Irina Davydova, the Russian who won the European title in Helsinki a fortnight ago and who now stands joint second with the Briton in the world rankings. Only Nataliya Antyukh, the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist from Leningrad, has run quicker this year, with 53.40sec.
Only one Briton has ever run faster than Shakes-Drayton. That was Sally Gunnell, whose UK record has stood at 52.74sec since 1993. A year before that, of course, Gunnell struck Olympic gold in Barcelona – a prospect that now looks at least a possibility for Shakes-Drayton.
"I'm over the moon with the time," the Londoner said. "Today I thought, 'It's an opportunity to race against best girls.' I've had to pull out of races this summer with little niggles, just as a precaution. I thought, 'Come on girl, pull your socks up,' and went for it. I had aggression and belief in myself. I had a very good day at the office."
It was that, and there had been signs that it was coming. Although her form over the hurdles in 2012 had been far from earth-shattering, Shakes-Drayton had been gathering momentum in the hurdles-free 400m and in the 4x400m relay.
At the Bedford Games last month she improved her 400m personal best to 51.26sec. And at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul in March, she held off the world flat 400m champion, Sanya Richards-Ross, on the anchor leg of the 4x400m relay to clinch gold for the British quartet.
The prospect of Olympic medals on the individual and the team front is beckoning. "This gives me confidence," Shakes-Drayton said. "I've just got to keep going as I have been going with my coach [Chris Zah].
"I'm a fighter, I'm going to try and do the best I can. Everyone wants a medal and I want one too, but it's not going to be easy. "
Four years ago Shakes-Drayton won the Olympic trials in Birmingham but lost out in selection to Tasha Danvers, who proceeded to win a surprise bronze medal in Beijing.
"I've come a long way since then," she reflected. "I've put in a lot of dedication and I've got stronger. It was a good feeling when I got selected this time. It was, like, 'Wow, it's all been worthwhile.'
"When I didn't get selected, it didn't bother me. I wasn't crying or anything. I was very young and my family never pushed me to be an Olympian. The British Olympic Association took a group of us out to Beijing on a development programme – myself, Hannah England and Asha Phillip. We went into the Olympic Village and we went to see the British team at the holding camp. From then I thought, 'Next time, I should be on the track.'"
She will be this time. Debbie Dunn won't. The former world indoor 400m champion was withdrawn from the US Olympic squad for the 4x400m relay yesterday, for doping.
The 34-year-old tested positive for raised levels of testosterone and epitestosterone at the US trials in Eugene last month.Reuse content