London Eye: Pain barrier is hurdle for Turner to overcome
GB's leading hurdler can hardly walk... so what chance the Olympics?
Last August Andy Turner was stepping up on to the podium at the world track and field championships in Daegu. This week he has been struggling to walk down the stairs at his Surrey home.
"I've been walking down sideways, one step at a time," he says. "On flat ground I can walk fine but the moment I start even a jog it hurts. It feels like the Achilles is being ripped off the bone every step."
And when your job is to hit top speed and negotiate a succession of 3ft 6in barriers that is an awful lot of pain to deal with. Which is why, after a discomforting 7.74sec in a Great Britain vest at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow last Saturday, Turner is getting ready to ditch his planned indoor season. His priority is to get himself into one piece for the spring training camp in Florida that will make or break his prospects of having an impact at the London Olympics 175 days from now.
"I'm not even thinking about indoors at the minute, to be honest," the 31-year-old Commonwealth and European 110m hurdles champion says. "I just want to see if I can get pain-free. I'm inclined to leave the indoors now. I need to get my body in the right condition and start focusing on the outdoors."
Much will depend on how the Nottinghamshire native – a one-time Wembley goalscorer for Notts County in a play-off final youth team tournament – responds to a week of treatment in the wake of his painful, last-placed finish in the 60m hurdles at the Aviva International Match in Glasgow.
"I had an MRI scan on Monday morning," Turner says. "Then I went to see the doctor. We think we know the problem. It isn't actually the Achilles. It's just that that's where the pain is. It's a problem with the tendons in my foot becoming inflamed and, because everything tightens up, the Achilles overworks. And that's where I feel the pain.
"I'm going back for another scan and the doctors are probably going to inject it while they are scanning, so they can hit the exact point. Hopefully, they can finally get rid of the problem and I can get back into full training again."
Even before he lined up in Glasgow, Turner joked: "I am 31 and my body is falling apart." He has been struggling with Achilles problems for seven years. The latest bout flared up midway through a three-month, warm-weather training stint in Florida. It was Steve Ovett who impishly described the decathlon as "nine Mickey Mouse events followed by a slow 1500m." The 110m hurdles is one of those nine events, of course, and Turner has been doing his training for it at the Wide World of Sports track at Disneyland near Orlando. That happens to be the training base of David Oliver, the American with the giant shoulders who was the unbeaten world No 1 in the 110m hurdles in 2010 – and whom Turner pipped to the World Championship bronze medal in Daegu (after the result was revised and Cuban Dayron Robles, who crossed the line first, was disqualified for impeding Liu Xiang of China).
The pair plan to work together in March and April, under the guidance of the veteran coach Brooks Johnson. "Once I get this injury sorted out, I can give the training my all," Turner says. "I'm used to running in pain and I've been training through this latest problem but it would be great to get it sorted and have the confidence to go out there and trust my body."
For Turner, the Disney project has meant a temporary departure from his normal training group in north London, run by his long-time coach, the former international high hurdler Lloyd Cowan. "Lloyd just wants what's best for me," Turner says. "It was a tough decision to go but this year I have to be selfish. I have to train with someone like David on a daily basis. Lloyd knows that's the best thing for me, so he's happy for me to go out there. He's going to come out at some point anyway and get a free little holiday to Florida."
In the meantime, Cowan is getting on with the business of preparing Britain's one reigning Olympic track-and-field champion for the defence of her title in London. Four years on from her 400m victory in Beijing, Christine Ohuruogu has entered home Olympic year with no great expectations on her shoulders. "Well, since Beijing, not a lot's gone right for Christine, really," Turner said of his sometime training partner. "She's been injured and stuff. It's weird with Christine. I don't think she's got the recognition she deserves – even to this date. She's forgotten about. She's our one Olympic champion and no one talks about her.
"I haven't seen her for a while but I've heard she's training really well. And Christine's the kind of person you can never discount. She went to the World Championships in Osaka in 2007 off the back of one race and pulled out the gold medal, so the girl is that good.
"She can pull it out of the bag when she needs it. People should never discount her. I wouldn't put any money against her winning gold."
Andy Turner is an ambassador for Alfa Romeo – the official car supplier to UK Athletics. Visit: www.alfaromeo.co.uk
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