In October 2012, I had the privilege to interview former Olympic 400m Champion, Christine Ohuruogu. Christine, like me, studied BA Linguistics at University College London. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to conduct a telephone interview with her. This article appeared in Pi Magazine.
On Sunday 5th August, as the athletes reached the home straight, Christine Ohuruogu found herself several steps off the pace as she battled to cling on in the final of the 400m Olympic final. However, roared on by the home crowd, the British runner stormed back into contention to nearly pip gold in the last metres of the race.
Yet, the London girl’s journey to the Olympic Stadium was a culmination of a project built upon years of tireless practice and whole-hearted commitment, via Beijing, most of which took place just a matter of miles away from the venue of London 2012’s main spectacle. Part of this journey involved three years at University College London where she graduated in BA Linguistics, with flying colours. Christine feels that her spell at UCL and the knowledge and experience she picked up during this time has prepared her not just for life after athletics, but has contributed heavily to the success she is achieving now.
Resisting the temptation to relocate out of London, Ohuruogu describes her decision to stay in London and study Linguistics at UCL , as “probably the best decision I have ever made”. She highlights that it was hugely beneficial having a stable base in London, where she did not have the stress of having to bed into a new environment, faced with distractions and lack of focus. ”There were a lot of changes going on but for me to have that stable environment, and to have that routine going on at home kind of saved me a lot of hassle of finding my way around if I had moved away from home” she reveals.
She describes her decision to take up Linguistics, a study combining both arts and sciences, as a natural progression from A-Levels and a result of her love for languages. “For me language is something that’s living, it’s something that is constantly changing, constantly impacting life. Your knowledge of language and how it works is always going to be in use. I’d like to pass on that appreciation to young kids so they can grow up really appreciating the English language and what it can actually do for you” she told me. From my time studying Linguistics (currently in my final year), it certainly is an extremely unique subject and one in which it feels like all parts of your brain are being activated. One morning you could find yourself comparing the phonological patterns between Cypriot and Athens Greek, and in the afternoon discussing whether what a speaker says entirely encodes what he means to say. Whilst some may see this as fairly trivial, the subject can prove extremely rewarding and the skills acquired are certainly applicable to life outside university.
Christine extremely enjoyed her studies, but it was the whole experience of studying towards a degree that was most rewarding. It is important to note, that during the course of her degree she managed to compete in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, narrowly missing out on the 400m final. Dedicating so much time towards both a degree and a career in athletics, required extraordinary commitment of time and effort, and she successfully managed to do both. Reflecting on this time in her life, “It was difficult – I don’t remember exactly how I did it. I guess just being organised and knowing what you want. Once I focused my mind I was just trying to get the best grades that I could”.
She certainly gives the impression that her education was of paramount importance; any success that she achieved in athletics was a bonus at that stage in her career. This mindset is extremely admirable. In other sports such as football, youngsters are earmarked for sporting success early on and as clubs look to identify the next Wayne Rooney or David Beckham, education is pushed aside. However, the reality is that not every youngster makes the grade in their chosen sport. Thousands of teenagers sacrifice everything to have a shot at fulfilling their sporting dreams, yet there is only very small percentage that reaches the top level. For those that fail along the way, after virtually neglecting their education, there is little to fall back on. Christine made sure that regardless of how her athletic career materialised, she was to provide herself the best opportunity to succeed whatever path see would eventually take. “I wanted to be as good as I could be in my books as well as in my sport” said the 2006 Commonwealth Games champion.
Finally, after graduating in 2005, she has great memories from UCL, looking back on her years here with immense pride, joy and satisfaction. “I chose UCL because I absolutely loved it. I have such fond memories from there. Whenever I drive past UCL, I get so nostalgic. I just wish I could go back!’.