Burn the ships


At the World Athletics Championships in Moscow this year, Christine Ohuruogu is the captain of British team. In her team talk before they went out on day one, she told them the story of the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortés. In 1519, Cortés led a tiny army of 600 men and 11 ships onto Mexico, in an attempt to conquer the Aztec empire. It was a feat many armies with far more men and resources had tried and failed. Once they’d landed on an inland plateau, Cortés ordered his men to burn their ships. They did so and there was now no way back. No exit strategy and just two options: death or victory. Cortés became the first man in 600 years to suc­cess­fully conquer Mexico. Ohuruogu urged the athletes to go all out, to leave it all on the track.

When it came to her 400m final, at 200m she looked beaten. At 300m I couldn’t see her getting a medal. At 350m Amantle Montsho was cruising to an easy victory. But ‘Ohuruogu’ means ‘fighter’ in Nigerian and she never stopped believing and pushing. “It never crossed my mind I might not win,” she said afterwards. “A race isn’t won until it’s over. You’re not supposed to give up. You’re supposed to fight with everything you’ve got.” Asked about her captain’s speech, she said, “It was like a speech to myself. Trying to tell them that we have two choices: either you commit to the job or you don’t, there’s no in between. You either do it regardless of whether your leg’s falling off or you go home, it’s simple. Sometimes we give ourselves excuses, what I call a ‘back door clause’ where if it doesn’t happen I’ll just…y’know. But you have to be brave enough to stand up and say ‘this is what I’m going to do, this is what I want and I’m going to go for it.’ You have to be responsible for your actions.”

Christine Ohuruogu has been maligned, under-estimated and written off for her entire career. She’s been through a lot and has never had the media appeal and marketing savvy of athletes like Paula Radcliffe and Jessica Ennis. She loves running but has absolutely no interest in being a high profile personality. Who cares? Screw the media, Christine. You’re an inspiration, a legend and the race on Tuesday was one of the greatest ever performances by a British athlete. You make me want to dispense with the vast array of ‘back door clauses’ I’ve set up for myself and properly commit to the things I want to achieve. Burn the ships!


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

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