In her captain’s speech, Christine Ohuruogu had told the story of a Spanish commander, who ordered his troops to burn their ships as they launched an Aztec invasion, telling them the only way they would come home was on board enemy ships.
It hammered home the message to her team-mates not to leave anything behind on either track or field, advice she adhered to by producing the greatest run of her life to become the first British woman in history to win a second world title.
Only two British men had previously achieved the feat: Jonathan Edwards and Colin Jackson, both of whom were in the stands at the Luzhniki Stadium and watching in awe as she lunged for the line to deny Amantle Montsho by the lining of her Great Britain vest.
The race had been billed as a head-to-head between the pair and it could not have been tighter, both women being given a time of 49.41seconds, separated by a mere four-thousandths of a second. Appropriately, it beat Ohuruogu’s personal best of 49.61sec set as she clinched her first world title six years ago in Osaka.
When she recorded that mark in Japan, it was thought it was only a matter of time before she would eclipse Kathy Cook’s long-standing British record of 49.43sec, as old as Ohuruogu herself, set at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Nearly three decades on, it was Ohuruogu’s do-or-die dip at the line that at last earned her the record and another gold.
It was a performance of such staggering coolness and composure as Ohuruogu, the 2008 Olympic champion, once again had her moment in the spotlight. With her victories in 2007 and 2008, she had long ago been pre-billed as the golden girl of London 2012. She was certainly the local girl, brought up a mere stone’s throw away from the stadium, but as injuries, which she described as “war on her body”, took their toll and Jessica Ennis-Hill came to the fore, the Londoner rather disappeared into the background.
London had, in the end, proved a positive experience with a silver medal behind Sanya Richards-Ross, who failed to qualify for Moscow following toe surgery in the autumn. With Ennis-Hill also injured, this was very much Ohuruogu’s golden moment once more.
Afterwards, she admitted she had not slept in weeks worrying about these championships and said: “This is a bonus. What I was going for was the national record. This is like a dream, it’s too much. When I finished I didn’t know if I’d won it. I didn’t want to get excited until my name came up. It was so tight on the line and I was so desperate to win it. I just wanted my name to come up. It feels really surreal and strange, it doesn’t feel like I’m really here.”
She was unfazed when Natasha Hastings, the cousin of the former Newcastle United goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, overtook her on the opening bend, and seemed equally unperturbed when she entered the home straight some five metres behind race leader Montsho, who was just a lane outside her and seemingly perfectly in her sights.
Montsho, who as a child had raced ostriches with her siblings, had been the pre-race favourite with just two defeats in eight races this season and was a more than worthy adversary.
She had history herself in her sights aiming to become only the second woman in history – the first being Cathy Freeman in 1997 and 1999 – to win back-to-back world 400m titles. Having pipped Allyson Felix to the line in a captivating final in Daegu two years ago, where Ohuruogu had been disqualified for a false start in the heats, this time Montsho was on the receiving end of a defeat.
The margin between gold and silver was so tight that Montsho would have won had she made the lunge for the line and the Botswanan admitted: “I don’t know how to dip for the line.” She was also unaware how close the Briton was, understandable as she had entered the home straight so far back.
But such is the power and efficiency of her running that, while Montsho and the rest of the field tied up, Ohuruogu was entering the best phase of her race, pumping her arms and running right to the 400th and final metre of a pulsating race.
Of her tactics, Ohuruogu, who admitted she had defied the advice of her coach in the home straight, said: “If it was going to the wire, I wanted to make it as hard as possible for her.
“I think that’s the fifth big final I’ve been to so I know how to deal with it; I know what I’m doing. I could safely bet they would not quite know how to manage the field.”
In the lead-up to the London Olympics, Ohuruogu penned a series of children’s books called Camp Gold. In London, she did not quite have the medal to go with it. In Moscow, she most certainly did.
Gold Beijing 2008, 400m.
Silver London 2012, 400m
Gold Osaka 2007, 400m.
Bronze Helsinki 2005 and Helsinki, Osaka 2007, 4x400m relay.
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