#SJA2013: I’m voting for… Christine Ohuruogu

TOM KNIGHT, athletics writer and author, says that 2013 is the year that the SJA should recognise the world-beating achievements of the 400 metres national record-holder

Champion moment: Christine Ohuruogu reclaimed the 400m world title in August, six years after first winning global gold
Champion moment: Christine Ohuruogu reclaimed the 400m world title in August, six years after first winning global gold

Little about Christine Ohuruogu’s career has been what you might call conventional. That has been one of the secrets of her success.

Yet even those accustomed to her unconventionality were on the edge of their seats watching the final moments of her 400 metres final at the athletics world championships in Moscow in the summer. She was in great form going into those championships but, even by her own standards, the lead Ohuruogu had given the pre-race favourite, Amantle Montsho seemed surely too big to overcome down the home straight.

Not so. In the most thrilling finish of a strangely lacklustre championships, Ohuruogu – the champion of the late surge – clawed back the deficit to clinch victory by just four-thousandths of a second. The old cliché suggests it was “the thickness of a vest”,but it was even closer than that.

Both women were awarded the same time of 49.41sec and Ohuruogu was allowed a double celebration because she had finally broken the British record, set 29 years previously by the great Kathy Cook. It was little wonder that Ohuruogu was reduced to tears because it had been a sensational performance.

Of course, it has to be said here and now that, in some quarters of the media and probably the public at large, Ohuruogu could never be accepted as a recipient of an award such as the SJA’s Sportswoman of the Year because of the year-long suspension that followed her three missed drugs tests in 2006. For her detractors, her career will always be questioned. For those closer to the sport, however, those missed tests were the result of the very unconventionality that has marked Ohuruogu out.

As a promising netball player, Ohuruogu came to athletics relatively late and, on making her breakthrough in 2004, claimed that she hardly ever watched the sport on television. Back then, she was a wide-eyed innocent and blissfully disengaged from the hype and media attention that her performances could bring and, in many ways, she has never changed.

The first time we saw that finishing surge was at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 when she surprised us all by winning gold. Within weeks of returning to the track in 2007, she won her first world title in Osaka. The following year came the Olympic gold medal in Beijing when she again made her customary late dash to chase down the much fancied American, Sanya Richards.

So there she was, Olympic, world and Commonwealth champion and, of course, something had to give. Injury and illness inevitably took their toll and the next three years were hard slogs with little reward. If there is something conventional about this east Londoner born less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium, it is her work ethic. She is a grafter.

By London 2012 she was almost back to her best and her late dash left her only a couple metres shy of retaining the Olympic title as her old rival, Richards took the gold. After the previous three years Ohuruogu had endured, for many the silver medal won in her own back yard would have represented an utter triumph. Not Ohuruogu, though: like a true champion, anything less than victory was hard to take.

At 29, she went to Moscow as the British team captain and everything came together again. Since then, the British athlete now ranked among the very best of all-time has been visiting schools in her home borough of Newham. What a tale she has to tell.

  • Between now and the end of 2013, anyone wishing to join the SJA may apply, with their initial fee covering their membership through until the end of 2014 – effectively 15 months’ membership for the price of 12. Click here for more details


Tue Nov 12: Laureus Lunch with All Blacks great Sean Fitzpatrick. Click here to book your place
Thu Dec 12: SJA 2013 British Sports Awards. Bookings now open. Click here for details


Mon Mar 24: SJA British Sports Journalism Awards, Grand Connaught Rooms, London
Mon Apr 14: SJA Spring Golf Day: Croham Hurst GC, Surrey. Booking details to be announced