MAKERS UK Cause Spotlight: Christine Ohuruogu
Christine Ohuruogu is no stranger to success. The 32-year old British track and field athlete has represented the United Kingdom on multiple occasions, specializing in the 400-metre dash – an event that asks its competitors to demonstrate an immense capacity for sprinting while also having the speed endurance to sustain their pace throughout the entire lap.
Through the course of her career, Ohuruogu has been awarded multiple accolades for her athletic prowess on various global stages, including at the Olympics and the World Championships in Athletics. With a record-breaking personal best of 49.41 seconds, set at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Ohuruogu is one of the fastest women in the U.K – and the only one to win three global titles.
But Olympians aren’t born; they’re made. Ohuruogu was born less than a mile away from what became the 2012 Summer Olympics stadium in Stratford, London. Raised in a home with Nigerian parents, Ohuruogu – the second of eight children – demonstrated an interest in athletics at an early age. “My parents are not sporty people,” she told MAKERS. “So for me, doing sports was something that I wanted to do for myself.”
Ohuruogu’s professional career really began in 2003, when she won a bronze medal for her 400-metre run at the European Junior Championships. Within a year, aged just 20, she was on her way to Athens to represent the United Kingdom in both the 400-metre dash and relay at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. It wasn’t long before she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year Honours.
Ohuruogu’s enthusiasm for sports reflects in her philanthropic efforts as well. Albeit discretely, the English sprinter has been funding young athletes’ progress out of her own wallet for years. She has served as an ambassador for the British Ethnic Diversity in Sports Awards (BEDSA) – which recognise the hard work and contribution of Black, Asian, and other minority ethnic sports stars, and Sporting Equals, another organization aimed at promoting equality and diversity in sports. In 2014, Ohuruogu embarked on a campaign that allowed her to visit schools in her home borough of Newham, where she shared empowering messages in support of young athletic students looking to follow in her footsteps.
Promoting greater exposure to the sporting world – especially to a young and increasingly diverse student population – is a key focus point for Ohuruogu’s efforts. “I really do believe that sport has a real place to play in society,” she told MAKERS. “I think the more we open it up to youngsters from different backgrounds, the more they can be molded by sport as well and molded for the better.
In 2005, because of a series of administrative mix-ups, Ohuruogu missed out on three out-of-competition drug tests. Without any proof of unfair practice, she received an automatic one-year ban from competing in athletics and a lifetime ban on competing at future Olympic Games for the United Kingdom: a large and heartbreaking truth for a rising athlete to confront.
Fighting through stifling injury and uninvited controversy, Ohuruogu continued to train during her yearlong ban. “I had to drag myself to training every day, even though I wasn’t quite sure what my future was,” Ohuruogu told MAKERS, “I needed to do that.” Ultimately, her Olympic ban was revoked in 2007, allowing Ohuruogu to compete at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in the 400-metre sprints, bringing home nothing short of a gold medal. If nothing else, it was this comeback that truly solidified her place as one of Britain’s most valuable athletes.
As she prepared to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Brazil, Ohuruogu continued to stress the importance of determination and grit in athletics – of actually ‘doing.’ When talking about the conversations she’s had with young and aspiring athletes, Ohuruogu told BBC, “If the kids can just remember one thing I say and tell that to somebody else, that’s how things work: little things lead to big things…People can learn more from me doing that than seeing me in a glossy magazine doing nothing.”