Running under a cloud: Ohuruogu cannot win whatever happens
Christine Ohuruogu is sitting in a comfy chair in a quiet corner of the Croydon Hilton, pondering the question of what time she might have to run to win Olympic 400m gold in Beijing on 19 August. Before she can answer, she jumps in her seat at the sudden screech of a mobile phone belonging to her companion and training partner, the 110m hurdler Andy Turner. "That horrible ringtone!" she says. "That horrible scream!"
Still, the world 400m champion can't help chuckling at the Psycho theme. The way Ohuruogu has been portrayed in certain quarters you could be forgiven for thinking the 24-year-old linguistics graduate was the Norman Bates of British sport. "Please don't make this the face of our London Olympics," one red-top newspaper implored when the young woman from the East End of London returned after serving a 12-month suspension for missing three random drug tests to win the World Championships 400m title in Osaka last August. Other commentators at the less sensational end of the newspaper market have persisted in demonising her, implying there was something more wilful in her missing the three tests than inadvertently being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the testers turned up unannounced.
Never mind that Ohuruogu served the punishment of a 12-month ban for her transgression of the anti-doping laws – and that, unlike Dwain Chambers, she has not been guilty of using performance-enhancing substances. In some people's eyes, the fact that she has successfully challenged the British Olympic Association bylaw precluding athletes who have served doping-related suspensions from selection for the Games, and will be going for gold for Britain in Beijing, is evidence of the kind of Comfy Chair treatment meted out by Monty Python's Spanish Inquisitors.
Not that the same critics have stopped to consider the hypocrisy of their selective moralising. Rio Ferdinand did not just miss a test, he drove away from an anti-doping team who had turned up at Manchester United's training ground. Yet he is still regarded as a worthy candidate to be England captain. Then there is Fabio Capello, who admitted in a magazine interview in 2004 that during his playing career with Juventus he had taken Micoren, a respiratory aid that acts as a stimulant.
"We all took it," Capello said. "I took it even when I played for the national team. At the time it was not illegal. It only became banned afterwards." Still, morally at least, is the England manager not worthy of the kind of treatment to which Ohuruogu has been subjected? The answer appears to be a resounding no.
Ohuruogu, of course, is paying the price for cheats such as Chambers, Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones, who have done untold damage to the reputation of track and field at international level. And yet when UK Sport published their figures of positive drug tests for the period from 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2008, athletics was down in seventh place with 14. Rugby union was top with 62, football second with 54. It would be interesting to see such matters debated in the next piece of fag-packet journalism relating to Ohuruogu.
Not that the athlete herself is holding her breath as she prepares herself for a realistic shot at getting on the medal podium in Beijing. Asked if she expects the day to come when, like Ferdinand and Shane Warne (who actually failed a drugs test), she might be written about without a mention of the D word, she gives a sigh of resignation. "Um, I don't think so," she replies. "I think I'm never going to get rid of it. It's something I've learned to accept. It's not something I like and it's not something I'm pleased about, but unfortunately that is how it is... such is life."
The fact is that Ohuruogu has been obliged to acquire a layer of self-protection since being reduced to tears by some of the negative reaction to her World Championships win last summer. Asked if her life is getting back to normal, she sighs again. "Whether it gets normal or not, I don't really care," she says. "As far as I'm concerned things in my head are normal. That's the most important thing."
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