Christine Ohuruogu is making history as the greatest athlete of all time, surpassing the recor of many British athletic greats. She produced a thrilling performance that won her the gold medal in the 400m in the ongoing World Athletics Championship to become the first British female to win two World Championship titles. The 29-year-old also broke Kathy Cook’s long-standing British record by two hundredths of a second as she beat defending champion Amantle Montsho in a photo finish. The feat has made Ian Chadband, Chief Athletics Correspondent of The British paper, The Telegraph to call for Christine’s face to be made the official Britain face in the coming Rio Olympics. Read Chadband’s news and comments.
“Champion of the world once again in the Luzhniki Stadium, Christine Ohuruogu beamed that trademark disbelieving smile. You could only hope this remarkable triumph might just be the moment when a nation learns to properly embrace its most enigmatic, but also unquestionably one of its all-time great, athletes”.
A third individual gold in an outdoor global championship allows Ohuruogu to stand alone in the annals of British women’s athletics. No other Briton – not Dame Kelly Holmes, Sally Gunnell, Jessica Ennis or Paula Radcliffe – ever achieved as much on the biggest stages. Yet it is fair to say Ohuruogu has never been taken to the country’s heart like those champions she has now surpassed.
Could that change now? Perhaps it is wishful thinking because when she was given a one-year ban in 2006 for failing to attend three out-of-competition drug tests, Ohuruogu’s punishment turned out to be a lifetime penalty.
For even though three separate independent inquiries concluded she missed the tests through “forgetfulness” and an inability to get to grips with a testing regime in its infancy, her fate was sealed: to be treated by many with a scepticism that strayed towards the hostile.
It was Steve Cram who, following her Olympic triumph in Beijing, asked the public to “now see her as a proper British hero, because that is what she is”. But five years later, the request perhaps needs to be reiterated after this most epic of victories, one that felt inconceivable even in the dying metres.
Ohuruogu, to her credit, has never worried about the way she is regarded as she has simply ploughed on with carving out a brilliant career as if the sheer force of her achievements might one day demand her critics salute her. Now we really should. Because this was the race which encapsulated a career that has always been about fighting, not cheating. Sometimes, ‘Chrissie O’ may not have come over as the easiest to love because she is no media luvvie and can seem a little aloof, unapologetic or prickly.
Yet meet her in a more relaxed, one-to-one setting and you can recognise a special person; bright as a button, albeit slightly absent-minded, engaging, God-fearing and always very much her own woman.
She is not the team captain here for nothing. Her team-mates adore Ohuruogu and take inspiration from her example on and off the track. The Londoner still runs with a spirit which reflects her surname, which means “fighter” in her Nigerian family’s native Igbo tongue.
Ohuruogu has always had just one clear driving force: love. “I never got into athletics because I wanted to be the best,” she explained. “I got into it because I enjoy it and feel blessed to do what I do.” That happiness had never seemed more evident than yesterday as she celebrated what effectively felt like the culmination of her second great comeback.
The first ended, as this one did on the podium, in tears. Only in Osaka, where she won her last world title after completing her doping ban in 2007, they were tears of misery because the next day, instead of being hailed as a champion, she was greeted by widespread cynicism.
No British winner ever received such a lukewarm reception. “Please don’t make this the face of our London Olympics,” one newspaper implored. Well, they got their way as she was shoved aside for Ennis.
Yet as the tears flowed again here, it was easy to imagine the irony that, at a rejuvenated and contented 29, Ohuruogu still potentially has a few even finer years of achievement left. Dare we say ‘please make this Britain’s face of the Rio Olympics’?