This article titled “Christine Ohuruogu helps win 4x400m gold as Britain claim record haul” was written by Andy Bull in Istanbul, for The Guardian on Monday 12th March 2012 00.11 UTC
For Charles van Commenee and his British team the plan is starting to come together. Four months out from the Olympics, Great Britain had their best world indoor championships. The team won five medals on the final day of competition, taking their total to nine. That put them in second place in the medal table, behind the USA.
The women’s 4x400m relay squad won gold, and the men’s quartet silver, but just as pleasing for the head coach Van Commenee were the three bronzes that went to a trio of talented young athletes. Holly Bleasdale, 20, in the pole vault, Andrew Osagie, 24, in the 800m, and Shara Proctor, 23, in the long jump all finished third in their events. The inspirational effect of the home Olympics seems to have started early.
The women’s relay final was one of the most entertaining races of the championships. Over the first two legs the British team of Shana Cox, Nicola Sanders, Christine Ohuruogu and Perri Shakes-Drayton were trailing both the USA and Russia. Ohuruogu, who has not been in a competitive 400m since last September and said she “didn’t really want to come here because I don’t like indoors” ran a brilliant leg of 52sec flat, streaking past both the runners ahead of her. Here then, was a glimmer of hope that the Olympic champion may yet be coming back into the kind of form that has not been seen for over two years.
If Ohuruogu ran well, the 23-year-old Perri Shakes-Drayton was better still on the final lap. Her split time was 51.50sec, and she did it with Sanya Richards‑Ross, the gold medallist from the individual 400m, breathing down her neck. Richards-Ross closed the gap on the final bend but Shakes-Drayton held her off as the crowd came to their feet to roar the two on. Shakes-Drayton finished three hundredths of a second ahead, and was leaning so hard towards the line that she fell to the floor after crossing it. Even Van Commenee jumped up and down in celebration.
The men’s four of Conrad Williams, Nigel Levine, Michael Bingham and Richard Buck finished second. The USA team who finished ahead of them were initially disqualified because their anchor runner, Gill Roberts, jumped the line when waiting to receive the baton. That decision was overturned on appeal.
The long jump was almost as dramatic. Proctor took the lead after equalling her own British indoor record with a jump of 6.86m. The USA’s Janay Deloach jumped 6.98m in the final round, and her team-mate Brittney Reese followed that with 7.23m, the third-best jump in history. Proctor responded by breaking that British record for the third time in four weeks, with a leap of 6.89m. She is now only a single centimetre shy of Bev Kinch’s national outdoor record. That has stood for 29 years but looks certain to fall soon.
Proctor grew up in Anguilla and joined the British team in 2010. As with all the team’s athletes who were born overseas, she has her own story as to why she switched allegiance. Anguilla is a British overseas territory and so is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. Proctor is entitled to her British passport, and says: “I wouldn’t be able to go to the Olympics, so this was something I had to do if I was going to be able to follow my dream.” Anguilla are allowed to compete at IAAF events, and her younger sister Shinelle ran for them in the 60m here in Istanbul.
Bleasdale’s back story is a little less complicated, as she comes from Chorley and has lived there all her life. She has cleared 4.87m this season but has said her ambition is to make a habit of vaulting at least 4.70m every time she competes. It was exactly that mark that won her bronze. “I’m really, really happy for my first major medal,” Bleasdale said. “I’m so excited.But me being so happy meant I didn’t focus enough on the 4.75m and only really attacked it on my last attempt.” Her exit left the great Elena Isinbaeva alone on the stage. But Bleasdale is unlikely to make her rookie error again, and is likely to be keeping the Russian company when the bar heads up towards five metres later in the year.
Osagie was also celebrating his first international medal in his first major championships. It was a slow 800m, which suited him, but he still handled the situation superbly, passing Poland’s Andrew Kszczot in the home straight. “As soon as someone made a move, everyone panicked,” Osagie said. “I really didn’t want to, I wanted to keep my head just like I did in the semi-final. I knew that last lap I was going to be quicker than most and I wanted to be in there in contention.” There must be a mention too, for Andrew Pozzi, the 19-year-old sprint hurdler who finished fourth after setting new PBs in both the heats and semi-finals.
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