The 2008 Olympic champion says she has overcome the hangover of last year’s World Championships final disappointment
Christine Ohuruogu finds herself in an unfamiliar position ahead of the European Championships, left in the last chance saloon to prove her form and fitness as she bids to win herself an individual place at a fourth Olympic Games.
Ohuruogu, Olympic champion over 400m in 2008 and runner-up in London four years later, missed the opportunity to book herself one of two automatic spots to compete in Rio after withdrawing from the British Championships in Birmingham last month, with the places instead going to Emily Diamond and Seren Bundy-Davies.
On the face of it, the final individual berth in Team GB to run the 400m looks like a straight shootout between Ohuruogu, who has a season’s best of 52.00, and Anyika Onuora, with the pair being British Athletics’ only two athletes selected for Amsterdam, but the 2007 and 2013 world champion doesn’t see it that way and heads into her heat this afternoon knowing her international pedigree won’t guarantee selection.
“I know that when I’m at my best I can do well. The first half of this season has been a bit scrappy but I understood why and was able to articulate that to the performance director. I’ve never seen myself as having a guaranteed position anyway,” said the British record-holder, who is hoping to use the European Championships as a platform for the remainder of her season.
“People might sometimes think throughout the year that Christine is going to get picked, but for me I’ve always had to work for that. For me it’s not just about making the team. It’s about making finals. That’s what I train for. I train to medal.”
Despite not feeling like she’s guaranteed a position on the team, Ohuruogu says she’s proud of an international record which has seen her pick up two world, one Olympic and one Commonwealth gold spanning seven years.
The championship environment has frequently brought the best out of the east London-born athlete, with each of the five sub-50-second times of her career coming in major championship finals or semi-finals. While she can’t put her finger on the reason for it, Ohuruogu believes another chance to run rounds in Amsterdam serves as the best method of bringing our her ability.
She said: “We pinpointed the Euros a long time ago and it was one that we were going to really work towards to put down a good marker for the rest of the season and that’s primarily because of the rounds. I’m good under those conditions. It’s something that we had planned a long time ago because we accepted that’s the best formula for me to work in.”
Her record isn’t to say major championships have always gone her way since winning her first world title in Osaka in 2007. Last summer Ohuruogu entered the final in Beijing in ominous forming having run a 50.16 season’s best in the semi-final, but was dragged out of her comfort zone by a fast-starting Allyson Felix, eventually trailing through in last place.
“The final itself went wrong but I know why it went wrong. That wasn’t me running – well it was me running, but it wasn’t how I would prepare and I’ve dealt with that,” said Ohuruogu, who identified the absence of her long-term coach Lloyd Cowan in 2015 and an unfamiliar race plan as the reasons behind her final slump, as opposed to any deeper issues.
“I know when I’m doing what I need to get done, preparing how I need to prepare and running with my instinct it works. When I tried to change that it doesn’t work. I know that really wasn’t my usual race plan but under those conditions if you’re not thinking properly you do different things and I think I just did something I didn’t want to do.
“I’m not saying I would have gone and medalled or won the race because I think that would do the other runners a complete disservice, but I think I just took myself out of the race and that’s typically something I don’t do. I don’t take myself out of the running. I’m fully prepared to fight to the line but I think the way I ran I gave myself no option but to just trail in to the finish line.”
Aside from offering a branch on to what will likely be her final Olympic team, the Europeans offer Ohuruogu the opportunity to complete the career “grand slam”, though she insists such an achievement would be for her to reflect on in retirement rather than in the run-up to Rio.
“I hadn’t even thought about that. Honestly, I’m not being silly,” Ohuruogu added. “I need to keep my focus very, very small. If you get caught up in the medal stats you lose yourself a little bit. I just see it as a job that I have to get done in the next couple of days. It’s about finishing up, seeing where I’m at and which calls we need to make and then we move on. I don’t really see it as anything bigger than that.”