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Perri Shakes-Drayton: all shook up

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Perri Shakes-Drayton: all shook up
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The home Olympics was meant to hold special significance for 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton. Born and raised in east London, the then 23-year-old was considered a medal prospect leading up to the Games, and set a personal best of 53.77s in a Diamond League event just before the eyes of the world turned to London.

That put her second in the world rankings, made her the second-fastest British woman of all time over that distance, and seemed to justify the praise from those expecting her to be standing on the podium in her home town.

It wasn’t meant to be, however – a hamstring niggle before the semi finals meant she failed to make it through to the Olympic final. She forced herself to watch from the sidelines – something that gave her the motivation to shrug off the disappointment and refocus on this year’s World Championships.

“I sat and watched,” she tells Sport. “I wanted to know what time they won it in. I felt a bit better afterwards, because my personal best wouldn’t have got me a medal.”

With that weight shaken from her shoulders, she was able to head into the winter ready to work. But with her coach Chris Zah unable to join her on their usual warm-weather training trip to Florida, Shakes-Drayton stayed at home.

“Obviously the Olympics didn’t go the way I would have loved it to have gone,” she explains. “But I channelled the disappointment I had into the winter season, trained hard as I always do, and it paid off at the European Indoors.”

Shakes-Drayton won two gold medals in unfamiliar disciplines in Gothenburg in March – but success in the 400m (without the hurdles) and the 4x400m relay hasn’t sated her desire for redemption. “It’s nice to be reminded of it,” she says when we bring up the double victory. “It kind of went to the back of my head – when people remind me, it puts a smile on my face.”

That grin could become a permanent feature if she manages to fulfil what many believe to be her potential with a medal at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow in August. At 24, though, she has youth on her side. The 2012 Olympic gold and silver-medallists – Natalya Antyukh and Lashinda Demus – are both 30 or over, but Shakes-Drayton admits that experience is important in a highly technical event like hurdles. There are, however, doubts as to whether some of her competitors will even continue on to the worlds.

“A lot of the girl hurdlers are a lot older than me,” says Shakes-Drayton. “So we’ll have to see [if they are still competing] when the season starts.”

Although perhaps not as well recognised as some of her Team GB colleagues, Shakes-Drayton has seen first hand the effect that the Games have had on the British interest in athletics.

“I’ve seen a lot of people more interested – even in the amount of followers I’ve got on Twitter,” she says. “They are always asking when my next competition is.”

Since you ask – and we did – her schedule looks like this: she‘ll be competing in the Great City Games in Manchester at the end of the month, before returning to the Olympic Stadium for the Anniversary Games in July. There will also be Diamond League events in between, although she’s missing the first 400m hurdles race of the series in Shanghai this weekend.

The main focus, though, is on the worlds. Shakes-Drayton refuses to get carried away with medal talk – for now she simply wants to achieve what she failed to do at the Olympics. Her success in Sweden has eased the pain, and there are signs that her winter work has reaped rewards.

She will, however, have to wait until August for a shot at her season’s main goal. It’s like Shakes-Drayton says: “I need to be making that final.”

Amit Katwala @amitkatwala

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