London 2012: Champion Ohuruogu comfortable on homecoming
PUBLISHED: 13:23 03 August 2012 | UPDATED: 14:47 03 August 2012
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Newham athlete eases into semi-finals
Christine Ohuruogu had the weight of the whole borough of Newham on her shoulders as she set out in defence of her Olympic 400m title today.
But she never batted an eyelid, producing a ruthlessly efficient display to ease comfortably into tomorrow’s semi-finals.
The 2008 champion looked strong and controlled as she eased off in the home straight to finish a split-second behind American rival Francena McCrory.
It was as businesslike as you can get and, to highlight how focused she is, Ohuruogu slipped through the media mixed zone without so much as a word.
Ohuruogu, 28, grew up in the heart of the host borough of these London 2012 Games and was a keen netball player, as well as athlete, during her youth.
Speaking on the eve of the Games, she said: "I'm happy and proud of my borough and London, Stratford where I grew up.
"I've watched the changes and regeneration and the improvement in the standard of living.”
But Ohuruogu's first 400m run happened somewhat by chance after her club, Newham & Essex Beagles, found themselves short in a league meeting one day.
"Tim Mundle ran the women's team at the time. I tried to help the team," added Ohuruogu.
"I won it, got points for the team, and they said I made it look easy. I was about 17."
A few years later and Ohuruogu was competing at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, just missing out on a final place.
After winning Commonwealth gold in 2006, Ohuruogu was banned for a year after missing three out-of-competition drug tests.
But she came roaring back to win World Championship gold in 49.61secs, had her Olympic ban overturned in November 2007 and chased down American rival Sanya Richards to win gold in Beijing.
Ohuruogu has endured a difficult time of things since: an injury-hit 2009 was followed by a fifth-place finish at the Worlds in 2009, but Ohuruogu then missed the European Championships and Commonwealth Games before a false start in last year’s Worlds in Daegu.
Unpeturbed, she has steadily fought her way back into contention for the defence of her Olympic title on home turf.
"How I felt in Beijing isn't relevant to me," added Ohuruogu. "Everything is fine, I can't complain too much. I'm very boring!
"There have been low points, but I’ve gone past those and it doesn't do any good to drag up negativity.
"Last year was hard, but I always enjoy it, or I wouldn't come back. If I hadn’t been injured and had run rubbish, I'd be upset.
"I've had a full season, it's been really good fun. I train and I race and then some more. It's the same thing every year. It's just a matter of linguistics, your body treats it the same."
Ohuruogu, running in lane five with the Olympic flame burning close by, was happy to let McCrory race off in the opening 200m and came off the final bend to edge in front of her rival, before slowing down in the closing stages.
But the tactic did not curry much favour with former Olympic champion Michael Johnson, who said: “The first 350m, fine. But the last 50m - that's what worries me about Christine.
"She was very much in control of the race and very relaxed for the first 200m. But she just shut down far too early. You don't want to do that because you want a good lane draw the next day."
But if Ohuruogu's comments just prior to these Olympics are any guide, she will not be too concerned by the media criticism from the American.
"Writers want to tart it up. For me, it's something I do. I run competitions and do the best I can," she said.
"I'm not taking things on board too much. I'm doing my job. Stratford or Paris, the job stays the same. I'm not under any kind of stress.
"There have been years where I've been hurt, chasing times or fitness and my head was never very settled.
"I'm in control of myself. My coach runs the programme. I don't argue with that. I'm setting the tone of what I want to do."
Somalian athlete Zamzam Mohamed Farah, having carried her nation's flag during the opening ceremony, came home in one minute 20.48secs to loud cheers from the crowd, before Woodford Green & Essex Ladies Shana Cox booked her place in the semi-finals in heat two.
Brooklyn-born Cox, 27, had combined with Ohuruogu, Perri Shakes-Drayton and Nicola Sanders to win 4x400m gold at the World Indoors and followed her GB teammate through, just.
Running in lane two, Cox saw Shaunae Miller, of the Bahamas, pull up in front of her at the start of the back straight, but kept her focus to come through in the closing stages and finish in 52.01secs, pipping Guyana’s Aliann Pompey to the third automatic qualifying spot.
Ohuruogu, Cox and GB's Lee McConnell, who clocked 52.23secs in heat five, will all be back tomorrow night to chase a place in the final.
Newham, London - and the rest of Britain - will be watching.