Christine is taking things in her stride
A SWARM of teenage boys, bristling with nervous energy, sheepishly approach British athletics starlet Christine Ohuruogu, writes BEN WELCH. The Cumberland School pupils are queuing for their chance to meet the reigning women s Olympic 400 metre champion.
A SWARM of teenage boys, bristling with nervous energy, sheepishly approach British athletics starlet Christine Ohuruogu, writes BEN WELCH.
The Cumberland School pupils are queuing for their chance to meet the reigning women's Olympic 400 metre champion.
The Newham & Essex Beagles athlete has dropped in on the school in Oban Close as part of her role as patron for the 2010 Balfour Beatty London Youth Games.
As a budding young athlete, she cut her teeth at the multi-sport event, representing Newham in netball and athletics.
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In a borough, where crime figures register in the top 10 for the capital, the 25-year-old is an inspiration - an example of what can be achieved.
After a rollercoaster career under the media spotlight Ohuruogu is surprisingly relaxed, despite having a Dictaphone hovering under her nose.
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Her friendly demeanour breaks the mould of today's guarded sports stars. Open, honest and prone to an outbreak of the giggles, Ohuruogu puts on a serious face when it comes to discussing the purpose of today's event.
"I think giving youngsters an annual sports festival where they can compete is great. It shows them they can't just jump to elite level; you have to work at it," said the newly appointed MBE.
"This event allows them to compete and have fun. It's like a mini-Olympics.
"These kids want to go out there and win because there's an element of rivalry between boroughs.
"I remember when I competed - I wanted to do well in my borough's colours.
"There's a lot that can be learned from this experience."
And if there's anybody who knows about learning from experience it's Ohuruogu.
She burst on to the scene at the age of 20, winning a bronze medal in the women's 4x100m relay at the 2005 World Championships.
She went on to clinch 400m gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, before controversy struck.
The talented young star was suspending from competing in the European Championships after she missed three out-of-competition drugs tests.
The IAAF and British Olympic Association hit her with a one-year ban, which kept her out of action until August 2007.
The nightmare went from bad to worse - the British Olympic Association imposed a lifetime ban, excluding Ohuruogu from competing in future Olympic Games for Great Britain.
After threatening to leave and compete for another country, the decision was overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport following a protracted appeal case.
Within 24 days of completing her suspension she returned to action in style - winning gold at the 2007 World Championships in Japan. She also took bronze in the 400m relay.
In 2008 at the Beijing Olympics she beat pre-race favourite Sanya Richards of the USA to clinch gold in the 400m - it was Britain's first and only track and field Olympic gold of the Games.
After everything she has learnt, what advice would she give to up and coming athletes?
"I say this a lot, but it's very important to enjoy what you do," said Ohuruogu before warning aspiring stars it takes more than talent to reach the top.
"The training is incredibly hard. You have to be 100 per cent committed and focused and willing to make sacrifices.
"It's a bit sad, but it's my life. However, if I got up one day and I thought to myself, 'I'm not enjoying this anymore, I don't want to do it', I would pack it in because it's too hard to do it half-hearted."
But she admits her resilience has been tested during the recent cold snap paralysing Britain.
"The snow is pretty, but by next week, it definitely has to go, otherwise I'll just go and dig it all up myself. I'm not happy," barked Ohuruogu, before cracking a smile.
It's not all work and no play for the city girl. She confesses to the odd secret vice.
"I love my food," she admits behind a mischievous smile, before confessing to the ultimate calorie sin.
"Some mornings I have the odd McDonalds - I'm not going to lie.
"When I take my brothers to school I take them for a drive-thru McDonalds and they just can't eat on their own without me," justifies the finely-tuned running machine.
"But not all the time," jumps in Ohuruogu. "I haven't done it for a long time." And whereas most of us will let our hair down with a boozy night out, Ohuruogu seeks refuge on the sofa after a punishing work out.
"I conk out on the sofa", she laughs. "I'm so useless after training." However, the Londoner found it hard to hide her frustration after an injury-plagued 2009.
"My initial reaction is to say disappointed, but I think I've got to be realistic," admitted the former University College London student.
"Ideally I'd go to a major championship and win it, or at least get a medal, but I didn't do either one of those.
"I went to a championship (World Athletics Championships, Germany) injured (hamstring) and came fifth in the final."
With the European Championships in Spain just seven months away, Ohuruogu has her sets sight on breaking records.
"My main target this year is the Europeans in Barcelona. I would like to run a personal best - it's long overdue," she said.
"Training has been very hard - I've just been through two weeks of pain.
"The winter has been ferocious. I've been out in the mornings running up hills.
"I care about what I do. I want to be the best I can be. If I look at myself in two months and I'm not fit enough I only have myself to blame.
"The next few years are all building up to the London Olympics in 2012.
This year is important because it leads on to next year, which is the World Championships and then that leads on to the Olympics. It's an important cycle."
Chatting to one Britain's foremost athletes it's hard to escape the inevitable questions about London 2012.
But, despite fielding countless questions on the Games, the former Romford school girl, answers every query like it was her first.
"I love London - I've lived here all my life," beams Ohuruogu.
"I am so happy it's coming to my city. I don't want to say it's going to change London in terms of sporting revolution, but it's giving London a chance to showcase what it has to offer.
"It's a very diverse city and I think that's what the games will highlight. London will show the world its appreciation for sport."
Raised less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, the thought of performing in front of her home crowd is a pressure Ohuruogu is trying to put in perspective.
"I try not to think about performing in front of my home fans at the Olympics too much, because I think it will wear me down - what we do is hard enough without trying to add more pressure on ourselves," she said.
"When it comes to it, I will find a way to deal with it somehow."
Probably conk out on the sofa with a McDonalds.