Mike Rowbottom
mikepoloneckOver the years, I have realised what the problem is with Christine Ohuruogu. From a media point of view, that is. She's no good at pretending.

I can remember clearly her breakthrough 400 metres victory at the 2004 Olympic trials held in the small arena next to Manchester City's stadium. After holding off the challenge of Scotland's seasoned international performer Lee McConnell, with a performance of gathering strength that has since become her trademark, the 20-year-old became a figure of altogether less assurance as she was led into the small media room crammed with eager scribes.

She clearly found the whole thing faintly ridiculous. Which, in a way, it was. But hey, if you will insist on winning, that's what you get.

ohuruogumanchesterChristine Ohuruogu arrives...by beating Lee McConnell in the 2004 Olympic trials at Manchester aged 20

Since that awkward press debut Ohuruogu has clearly decided that all the hassle is worth it, as she has gone on to win Commonwealth, world and Olympic titles before mounting a profoundly impressive defence of her title at the London 2012 Games, just a couple of miles from her family home in Stratford, which ended with an honourable defeat. Which she found unbearable.

Of course, there was a controversial interlude from 2006-2007 when she was banned from the sport for three failures to be where she was supposed to be when random dope testers arrived -the result, I believe, of her propensity to disconnect. The sanction was unfortunate but justified.

However one views that turn of events, however, the thing is that it has not been the case that her attitude to the media has been warped by the bad press she received in some quarters as a result. She was awkward with the press beforehand, and remains so, although to a lesser extent. This graduate of linguistics from University College, London simply has no time for the kind of small talk or chat which animates many other athletes when they come into contact with the press. She is naturally guarded, and only very rarely does one witness the barriers coming down.

gothenburggirlsChristine Ohuruogu (second right) celebrates 4x400m gold at this year's European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg with (from left) Shana Cox, Eilidh Child and Perri Shakes-Drayton

Five years ago I joined her in the classroom of a London school as she took a lesson as part of a scheme to encourage the use of English. She was suddenly a very different person, more relaxed, smiling readily. Afterwards, she acknowledged that if she had not been an athlete, she would probably have been a teacher.

Since then I have seen her from time to time on the circuit, occasionally eliciting a reserved greeting. Last month in Doha, at a press conference presaging the opening IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season, I sat with a few colleagues to interview her and Amantle Montsho, the current world 400m champion from Botswana. And Ohuruogu was back to her default position.

Question one. How important to her was the impending race against the world champion? "It's just a race. The first race of a long season."


Question two, different approach required, perhaps?

"How much confidence does it give you for this year's World Championships that you have proven yourself to be such an effective championship runner over the years?"

"Sometimes you can get lulled into a feeling of success and security. I don't like thinking about things like that."


As I set about some creative doodling, someone else asked her about what she has been doing in terms of preparation with her long-time coach, Lloyd Cowan. And suddenly Christine Ohuruogu was in the room.

"My little sister runs as well," she announced, her eyes bright, her face animated. "It's nice to be able to show her what I've learned and to help her with her running."

Victoria Ohuruogu at the English Schools Track and Field ChampionshipsVictoria Ohuruogu, who has been named along with elder sister Christine in the 400m relay squad for the forthcoming European Team Championships

Somebody else asked how good her little sister might turn out to be. Dangerous! This could go badly wrong!

But no. It was as if the sun had just come out.

"I hope she will be better than me," said Ohuruogu, who was now SMILING. "She's run 52.6 and she's still only 20. I want her to be better than me. Then I can retire. As long as she doesn't beat me this year!"

And now the bemedalled Olympian was actively GRINNING.

The prospect of younger sister Victoria beating elder sister Christine this season, at the same age she made her own breakthrough, is extremely remote, although, who knows, by the time of the 2016 Rio Olympics it may not be so.

In the meantime, however, the Ohuruogu sisters are planning to run together. Both were named this week in Britain's 400m relay squad for the European Team Championships at Gateshead the weekend after next.

So big sister will be able once again to show little sister the ropes. She has managed to be a teacher after all.

Mike Rowbottom, one of Britain's most talented sportswriters, covered the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics as chief feature writer for insidethegames, having covered the previous five summer Games, and four winter Games, for The Independent. He has worked for the Daily Mail, The Times, The Observer, The Sunday Correspondent and The Guardian. To follow him on Twitter click here.