Britain’s unlikely track star

HEARD the one about the record-breaking sprinter who switched over when the Olympics came on television? Montell Douglas is the fastest woman Britain has ever produced and one of the best home medal chances at London 2012, but that wasn’t always the way she intended it.

Growing up in south London, Douglas, now 25, flamboyant and adorned with facial piercings, dreamt of being a dancer and plastered her bedroom walls with pictures of Cristina Aguilera, Britney and the Backstreet Boys rather than Flo-Jo or Michael Johnson.

Although the Commonwealth gold medallist oozed early athletic promise, her passion was music. She admits she used to be a lazy trainer, but happily devoted endless hours to copying the steps of her favourite hits.

“A lot of kids are like, ‘Oh my dream is to be in the Olympics’, but it’s never been like that for me,” confesses Douglas, who was speaking at the launch of the City of Sport, an initiative aimed at getting Square Mile workers active.

“I don’t even remember watching Flo-Jo. People say: ‘I remember watching the Olympics’. I didn’t watch; I was watching MTV Base. I’d record all the dance videos, learn them and do them back-to-back. That is what I was doing. I did sport, but I didn’t watch it. I still don’t massively watch it.”

Her restless energy spills into her engaging staccato speech as she adds: “I’m a massive dance freak. If I didn’t do track I would probably dance. That’s what I was really interested in when I was younger. Music is a massive part of my life, I listen to it 24/7; in my car, when I get up in the morning, when I get ready. I’m half Jamaican and it’s in my blood; it’s just me.”

Her promise was spotted at primary school, where she was pitted against the year six boys on sports day because girls proved no competition. “There was only one of them who could beat me, and my teacher bet me a fiver I couldn’t beat him,” Douglas recalls. “That was where I got my first sense of competition.”

Her progress since then has been fitful. An experiment with the high jump was abandoned and, although she was UK under-17 champion in 100m and 200m, injuries frequently interrupted her. She arrived at sixth form with plans to be a physiotherapist and, in 2005, when London was awarded the Games, Douglas “wasn’t even thinking about it”.

Then, aged 21, her first breakthrough came. Monty, as friends call her, hit top gear at the 2007 under-23 European Championships, setting four new personal best times in six races over just three days to ensure her place at a first senior championships, the Worlds that same year. “That was the first time I remember thinking: ‘I can do this. I’m good’,” she says.

She would get even better – better, in fact, than she could have hoped – one July day the following summer, when she ran the 100m in 11.05 seconds to break Kathy Cook’s 27-year-old British record in the final of a meet in Loughborough. It was a huge shock, although she had run 10.95 in the semi-final, a time that cannot count as a record because of a strong wind.

Suddenly she had qualified for the 2008 Olympics, although Beijing ended on a sour note for Douglas. She failed to make the semi-finals and then, more disappointingly she says, a baton mix-up sabotaged the fancied 4x100m team’s final.

Some consolation came at last year’s Commonwealth Games, where the team took gold, but there are bigger prizes looming. She has put her ticket applications in like the rest of us just in case, but Douglas won’t entertain not making the final in London next year. “I’m not throwing that possibility out there into the cosmos!” she jokes.

“My ambition before was to run sub-11 seconds, and then I ran it [albeit with illegal wind assistance]. So I had to say to myself: what are you gonna do now? I have a sheet where I wrote down eight years ago my short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. All of them are done. What do I do now? The next thing is win an Olympic medal, that’s my all-time dream ambition.”

For more details of the City of London’s new scheme visit www.cityofsport.org