Olympic and world champion Christine Ohuruogu has warned the latest generation of Team GB stars they face a lottery as they look to emulate her achievement in Tokyo this year.
Ohuruogu, who swept to 400 metres gold in Beijing in 2008 and took silver in London four years later, believes the global pandemic has created an unfair playing field for elite athletes.
Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson are among those targeting the top of the podium, with women looking set to outnumber their male counterparts in a Team GB Olympic squad for the first time.
Ohuruogu told the PA news agency: “I think the current situation is a difficult one to navigate, and I’m really proud of all those athletes who have kept their resolve and managed to find a way round the issues.
“I really do feel for those elite athletes because when it comes to Tokyo it’s going to be a case of who’s prepared the best, who’s had access to facilities and who’s faced minimal disruption to their training programmes.
“These things count. At any usual Olympics you’d expect everyone to have similar preparation resources, but some will have had far less than others in terms of access to facilities and the medical side of things.”
Since announcing her retirement in 2018, Ohuruogu has begun to study a law degree and was last month appointed as a non-executive board director by GB Boxing, with a particular responsibility for performance sport.
While Ohuruogu acknowledged the impact of the appointment in helping shift perceptions of white male-dominated sporting boardrooms, she insisted it is more pertinent simply to focus on her qualifications for the role.
“I have six brothers and they all love boxing,” added Ohuruogu. “They stay up into the early hours watching all the big fights, and while I wouldn’t always join them, I still grew up watching the likes of Frank Bruno and Prince Naseem.
“The role came to me at the right time. I bring a lot to the table in terms of my knowledge of elite sport. I like to rest stronger on the fact that I’m bringing merit to the table, and that it’s not just about being a woman.
“I’ve competed in elite-level sport and the great thing about the GB Boxing board is that they have recognised that people can come in all shapes and sizes, and that as long they bring experience and something of value they deserve to be on the board.”
For Ohuruogu, this year’s International Women’s Day is particularly important, given its ability to re-focus on issues surrounding girls in grass-roots sport as it prepares to re-start in the wake of the pandemic.
“What really worries me is not really the elite level but grass-roots sports,” added Ohuruogu. “These are the guys we’re trying to get to Paris and LA, and if we’re losing talent now we’re going to be in big trouble for the next Olympic cycle.
“International Women’s Day is an opportunity for everyone to understand that this can be a really good time to encourage women to take part in sport, and the benefits of being healthier which is good not just for the physical side but for the mental side as well.”