Sprint hurdler eyes British indoor title and a European spot as she continues comeback from serious Achilles injury in Birmingham
When it comes to this weekend’s Spar British Athletics Indoor Championships, Cindy Ofili simply can’t wait to get going – and you can understand why.
The woman who narrowly missed out on a medal over the 100m hurdles at the Rio Olympics is revelling in the opportunity to be in the thick of competitive action once again after rupturing an Achilles tendon in the early summer of 2017.
She had to learn to walk again before she could jog, learn to jog before she could run, then learn to run before she could even think about hurdling again. Recovery has not been an easy process but it has brought a change in mindset which the American-born 24-year-old believes will ultimately help to turn her into a better athlete.
Ofili competed in just four events last summer, the last of which came at the Müller Grand Prix in Birmingham, but winter training has been going well. The sprint power is still there, she says, it’s the technique which needs honing.
That will come with racing, hence why she is relishing her chance to step out on to the Arena Birmingham track.
“I don’t feel as if this injury has slowed me down, it’s just a matter of me getting used to it again and once I can get that rhythm I think I’ll be back at my best if not better,” says Ofili, who is coached by Jeff Porter.
“Right now I think it’s more my technique that needs to be worked on rather than the actual power. I don’t think I’m lacking in that, I’ve just been feeling a bit sluggish and not really having race sharpness yet.”
She adds: “I have some niggles here and there because my body is still adjusting to the new Achilles tendon. It’s been something I’ve had to struggle with a bit but overall it’s getting better and I’ve been pushing, I’ve been working hard, so it’s just a matter of getting my race rhythm and getting used to competing again.”
“It was daunting and scary to think about everything moving forward but I didn’t let that get to me and now I definitely have the confidence”
It hasn’t just been a physical battle, however.
“I was losing confidence at the beginning with the injury but I had to continue reminding myself that ‘this is a process, it’s going to take time’,” admits the younger sister of fellow hurdler Tiffany Porter. “I had a tremendous amount of persistence during that time and that’s how I was able to make it back, because it was definitely daunting and scary to think about everything moving forward but I didn’t let that get to me and now I definitely have the confidence.
“I don’t feel scared to compete. I still get nervous but it’s the not the same – I don’t have my worth in my performances any more – so it’s a different mindset and it’s definitely helping me.
“There were times when I felt ‘this is too hard’ but in those times that’s when you really have to dig deep and remember why you’re here in the first place, to remember the gift and talent that you have.
“I had to tell myself ‘I am talented, I am gifted – this is something I was meant to do’ has been such a help and that’s given me the ability to get back here.”
There have been a number of key moments for Ofili throughout the recovery process, but none had greater significance than when she simply set foot on a track again.
“It was thrilling,” she says. “I was just jogging when I first stepped back on a track and I wasn’t even jogging properly because I hadn’t really done it in a while, but just to set foot on it was so exciting.
“It’s a moment I will remember forever because I hadn’t been on a track in almost a year and when I had the ability to do that again it was like a dream come true.
“Now that I’m actually hurdling again and getting back to my best, that’s 10 times better.”
She recalls: “I was starting from scratch. Once I got hurt and my Achilles got replaced I had to learn how to walk properly, then I had to learn how to run and then hurdle, so it was a step by step process.
“You had to adapt to it very quickly, otherwise you would drive yourself crazy, so I told myself ‘you’re starting from scratch, this is a great opportunity to work on things that I wasn’t able to work on previously’. Other parts of my body as so much stronger now and in the long run I think this injury is going to help me to be a better athlete. It’s a good thing.”
Ofili is now allowing herself to look at the longer-term picture, with this year’s IAAF World Championships and 2020 Olympics very much on her mind.
Her immediate ambitions for the indoor season are clear, however.
“The goal for Birmingham is definitely to win the British trials and to put on a good show,” says the athlete who has a personal best of 7.89 and a season’s best of 8.14 for the 60m hurdles. “A nice time would be good as well. I want to make the European team and make it to Glasgow to compete there.
“I also want to get back into the rhythm of racing. My season’s best is far off from by PB, which is okay, but I think each race will get better with time.
“Every minute I’m on a track I feel thankful. There are some days when I want to be mad about training because it’s hard and my mind will naturally go there. But then I remember where I was and I’m grateful automatically.
“It’s been a very big mindset shift – I think it’s helping me to approach training and competing differently.”