How Victoria Ohuruogu finally stepped out of her sister's shadow

How Victoria Ohuruogu finally stepped out of her sister’s shadow - GETTY IMAGES
How Victoria Ohuruogu finally stepped out of her sister’s shadow - GETTY IMAGES

That an Ohuruogu will wear the red bib denoting the country’s fastest 400 metres runner at this weekend’s British Championships is nothing new.

For years, it was expected that Christine, an Olympic and double world champion, would triumph on the national stage. Now, four years on from her retirement, the name lives on.

Through her entire career, Victoria has had the dual blessing and curse of being Christine’s younger sister. A steady rise in her late teenage years earned a number of British relay vests, before she swiftly plateaued, seemingly destined never to break out from the shadow of her only sister, who she trained with most days.

As the years passed by and toil failed to yield results on the track, her personal best from 2013 remained resolutely stuck. Then, after a year out “jaded with the sport”, she returned anew post-lockdown and began blasting out the type of fast times she had always dreamed of.

Off the back of four personal bests in her last four outdoor 400m races, she is now Britain’s fastest woman this year and on the cusp of securing her own legacy with her first individual spot on a GB team. Aged 29, Victoria is ready no longer just to be Christine’s sister.

“Through my whole athletics career I looked up at my sister, so everything I did was comparing myself to her at the same age,” Victoria told Telegraph Sport. “That’s how I rated how well I did.

“I think I struggled with the comparisons probably more than I realised. For the longest time I was known as Christine’s sister, which I accepted, but there were times when I wasn’t running well and would hear so much negative stuff from people: ‘She’s only good for training’ or ‘She can’t compete’.

“I thought I was dealing with it, but maybe on a subconscious level it was doing something negative to my mind.

“For the most part I saw it as a huge positive: I had a super-successful sister and I could train with her. It was great as a younger athlete trying to emulate her.

“Now I’m realising as I get older that I thought I was dealing with it, but it was probably quite rough.”

How Victoria Ohuruogu finally stepped out of her sister’s shadow - GETTY IMAGES
How Victoria Ohuruogu finally stepped out of her sister’s shadow - GETTY IMAGES

Only in hindsight has it dawned that Christine’s success may also unwittingly have held her back in more practical ways.

“All my life I had the same coach as my sister [the late Lloyd Cowan] and my programme was based off her programme,” said the east Londoner.

“It’s an easy mistake to look at what my sister accomplished and if someone else wants to do the event, it seems like a logical thing just to use her programme. There was a lot I could take from it, but only now do I realise that it meant I didn’t tap into my own weaknesses.

“I ran well when I was younger but had many years stuck in a rut where I wasn’t really progressing.

“Only after Christine retired and I came back from a year out did we have a look at me as an individual, and not me running my sister’s programme. Things like acceleration, power and explosiveness - my weaknesses. We’ve looked at Victoria as an individual.”

The upturn in results has been stark, with Victoria’s times tumbling since Christine replaced Cowan as her coach after his sudden death in January 2021.

Her 52.62sec personal best from 2013 was finally consigned to history last July, and her stunning run of form at the back end of 2021 and this summer has seen her lower it to 51.05sec - a time that puts her in the British all-time top 20. Christine, unsurprisingly, is number one.

With Olympic finalist Jodie Williams missing this weekend through injury, Victoria is now in pole position to qualify for next month’s World Championships. Only two of her rivals have ever run faster, but neither have done so this year.

“It’s not a position I’ve been in before,” she said. “It’s pretty nerve-wracking, to be honest.

“I’m trying to stay level-headed and not put any pressure on myself because of the occasion. I just need to do the same thing that I’ve done this summer already.

“In track terms I’m no spring chicken, and it’s hard not to think about the age thing, but everyone’s trajectory is different.”

Realising this is likely to be her final shot at the big time, Victoria left her full-time job as a studio manager for an architecture practice last winter and now fits in freelance work around her running. It is the first time in her career that athletics has taken priority.

“I’ve never been on funding and always had to work since I’ve been an athlete,” she said. “I had to make the hard decision to earn less money, but it’s better for track. We thought we’d just go for it this year and thankfully it seems to be paying off.”

Christine’s absence from the track also means a subtle, but significant, change when Victoria stands on the startline in Manchester for the first round on Friday evening.

“It’s quite nice to not have V.Ohuruogu on my bib and just have Ohuruogu,” she said. “I have had that the past couple of years and it is nice.

“It means people are starting to recognise me in my own right as Victoria Ohuruogu, rather than Christine’s sister.”