Perri Shakes-Drayton heading for a big PB in Crystal Palace (Mark Shearman) © Copyright
The 23-year-old is now a credible candidate to become the first British woman to win the 400m Hurdles gold medal since Sally Gunnell won the event exactly 20 years ago in Barcelona 1992.
A multi-talented athlete, Shakes-Drayton won the European bronze medal in 2010 before taking part in the 4x400m gold medal winning team at the Istanbul World Indoor Championships this winter. But it wasn’t until she shook no fewer than 41 hundredths of a second off her personal best time that she entered into the close circle of favourites for Olympic glory.
Although she will have the support of the entire crowd in London, Shakes-Drayton will face strong opposition from the representatives of the powerhouses of the event: Russia, Jamaica and the USA.
The impressive Russian trio in London includes World leader Natalya Antyukh who clocked 53.40 to win the Russian Championships in Cheboksary less than a month ago, the reigning European champion from Helsinki Irina Davydova and Elena Churakova who was fifth in Helsinki.
A bronze medallist in the 400m event at the Athens Olympic Games eight years ago, Antyukh has now become one of the leading figures in the 400m Hurdles event having taken bronze in Daegu 2011 and gold in Barcelona 2010.
Jamaica will be represented by the defending Olympic champion Melaine Walker, World Championships finalist Kaliese Spencer and Nickiesha Wilson who was also a finalist at the 2007 World Championships.
A former World Junior champion, Spencer has been the fastest Jamaican this year at 54.39 while Walker’s best came in Monaco’s Herculis meeting when she clocked 54.44 for third. Both Jamaicans who train together under the guidance of sprint guru Glen Mills know they will have to run much faster if they want to reach the podium in London. Both also know they have the ability to do so and should feature prominently through the rounds.
The challenge from team USA will be led by reigning World champion Lashinda Demus who won the US Olympic Trials in 53.98. Demus who was attempting a hard comeback after giving birth to twin boys in June 2007 went from first to fourth in the final stretch at the 2008 Olympic Trials thus missing on a chance to take part in the Beijing Games. Four years on she will make her second Olympic appearance and after being among the top one-lap hurdlers for almost a decade she will attempt at clinching the ultimate prize in London.
Outsiders Georganne Moline and T’erea Brown, both 22 years of age, will make their international debut in London after taking second and third respectively at the US Olympic Trials.
Demus still represent the US’s best chance to clinch their first ever gold medal in a discipline that was introduced in the Olympic Games programme only in 1984.
There will also be an interesting challenge from the Czech pair of Zuzana Hejnova and Denisa Rosolova. Hejnova scored a convincing win last week in Monaco where she set the sixth world’s fastest time of the year at 54.12 defeating Demus, Walker and Brown in the process while Rosolova, a former Long Jumper and 400m runner, took silver at the European Championships in Helsinki in what seems to be the latest discipline of her choice.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF