World, Commonwealth and European sprinter Lesley Owusu has her sights set on the 2014 Commonwealth Games despite ‘harsh’ selection standards
She may have been out of action for the past seven months with the Achilles tendon injury that ruled her out of the London 2012 Olympic Games, but now World, Commonwealth and European sprinter Lesley Owusu is back on track and has her sights firmly set on Glasgow 2014.
With a career spanning more than two decades, the 34-year-old admits that missing the chance to complete the set and compete at an Olympic Games on home soil was a huge disappointment, but that ultimately, having had time to reflect, it’s given her the hunger to continue.
“Just before the Olympic Trials I had an Achilles tendon injury which was devastating because obviously the Olympic Games are probably only ever going to come to your home country once in your lifetime and very GB athlete wanted to be there,” she reflects.
“That injury was a setback but I turned it into a positive for two reasons. For one I got the chance to be a reporter at both the Paralympics and the Olympics and at the same time it gave me the appetite. Seeing someone like Jessica Ennis win gold after all the pressure she was under, having had an injury four years earlier, reminded me that in life nothing is impossible. If you have the gift or the talent, that’s not enough, you have to have the hunger and the appetite.”
Speaking at the Sky Sports Living for Sport Awards, the initiative for which Owusu is an athlete mentor, she continued: “Having not gone to compete has given me the motivation to focus on the Commonwealth Games next summer and hopefully this year’s World Championships. As long as I’m healthy and fit, I think I’ve got a couple of years in me yet.”
But Owusu, who will be 35 when Glasgow 2014 comes around, also recognises that she’s going to have to raise her game if she’s to even make it as far as claiming a spot on the England team.
The Commonwealth selection standards caused furore when released by England Athletics earlier this month, with some athletes deeming marks that included qualifying ‘A’ standards of 13:03 for the men’s 5000m and 20.30 for the men’s 200m overly ambitious.
On defending the standards, the national governing body was keen to point out that it is a four-round process, with round one relating to two or more ‘A’ standards during the qualification period (January 1, 2013 to June 1, 2014) for individual events, through to round four where athletes who hold one ‘B’ standard achieved during the qualification period will be considered for remaining places on the team.
The four rounds, England Athletics advises, have been put in place to allow the selection panel to “progressively fill the full number of available places in a systematic manner”, insisting that the biggest-ever athletics team is planned for Glasgow.
Owusu specialises in the 400m, for which the Commonwealth ‘A’ selection standard for women is 51.60 and the ‘B’ standard is 52.10. Owusu’s PB is 52.15 recorded indoors in 2001, the year before she represented England as a member of the 4x400m relay squad at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.
“My training is going very well and one of my goals before retiring was to make this Commonwealth Games and it still is regardless of the criteria,” said Owusu.
“I know that now it’s going to be even more of an ambition because I’m going to have to raise my game and push myself to another level.
“I don’t just want to compete, I want to be a finalist and be in contention and I’ve got just over a year to do that.
“It would be a nice way for me to end my career, by competing at the Commonwealth Games if I decide to do that, but to make the team is going to be an extra challenge now because the standard is higher.”
Owusu understands the target is to send the strongest team possible, but also knows that the Commonwealth Games are seen by many as a stepping stone for athletes and says that raising the standards so high could even have a negative effect.
“I think without a doubt it could have a reverse impact,” she said. “Being positive, the good thing is that it will raise the standards for athletes to stretch and push themselves higher. But on the flip side, with the standard being raised so drastically high it may end up being something that could backfire.
“I think the standards are harsh and it will be difficult for some athletes who might have had the Commonwealths down as a possible or realistic goal. That time would be a new PB for me, to be able to get that ‘A’ standard to secure the spot, and the ‘B’ standard is also tough.
“If they’re going to be that strict it will put some athletes off with the pressure of making the standard as opposed to just concentrating on winning races and getting to the standard that would previously have got you a top eight finish or a medal.
“Once you get on the team, sometimes you might perform slower than when you qualified and still win a medal,” she adds. “Just to get there is the journey, once you’re there it’s whoever crosses the line first.”
» Lesley Owusu spoke to AW at the Sky Sports Living for Sport Awards. Sky Sports Living for Sport is an initiative delivered in partnership with the Youth Sport Trust which uses sport stars and sport skills to improve the lives of young people in secondary schools across the UK livingforsport.skysports.com