Cindy Ofili took 4th in the 2016 Olympics in the 100m hurdles, she was oh so close to a bronze medal. Stuart Weir chronicles her battle back from an injury she had in June 2017 in Boston. Cindy Ofili won British Championships in 2019 and 2020.
It is just over 4 years since Cindy Ofili finished fourth in the Rio Olympics, missing out on a bronze medal by two hundredths of a second. It was an encouraging performance in her first global final. Before she was able to build on it, she suffered a serious injury in Boston in June 2017. She was out for over a year, managing just five races in 2018.
She ran 16 races in 2019 but only three of them under 13 seconds compared with 15 sub 13 second races in 2016 – showing that she was still on a journey back to full fitness. She is confident that she can get back to where she was in 2016 and push on from there but also recognizes that it will take time.
She says of her current fitness level: “I’m definitely healed in the sense that my Achilles doesn’t feel painful any more. However, I think that other parts of my body are still trying to catch up with it because when I took a long time off, some parts of my body may have lost strength. It’s an ongoing process and there are other issues that I’ve had since that injury, that kind of set me back. But at the same time I’d been able to mentally overcome that and work through it. The hardest part of it has been mental. Some things have kept me out for a week but it has been the mental part that has been the biggest struggle, to come back from it with a positive mindset. Overall, I am healthy it’s just little things getting in the way of that.
She explains further the mental challenge of recovery: “When you have had a major injury like I did, any other injury that comes your way makes you feel that it is something huge. So even something small or medium, it still feels huge in your head. So it’s hard to truly race or train as you should because you’re thinking about it. That has happened multiple times, that something comes up at the wrong time, in the middle of the season, and mentally it’s very hard for me to trust that I can get back quickly from it because of what happened in the past. I have had multiple times where I’m hurt in the middle for race or something happens in a race and that makes me feel anxious that it could happen again. So that is what mentally is hardest for me”.
In 2020 she was determined to race, despite the challenges of training in lockdown. “Speaking personally, I thrive off competition”, she told me. “I run better with a lot of races. I had a short indoor season and barely had an outdoor season, not starting until the end of July. That was very unusual for me because when I have run PBs in the past it has been after multiple races. I think that is partly why I have not run the times that I wanted to this year – because of the lack of races. But, all things considered, I think I did well. In a difficult year I brought it together and executed well for the most part. So, in terms of my actual performances, I was happy with it. I’m not content, for I’d have liked to have done better, but at the same time I am happy with it”.
Even then the whole experience of competing in 2020 was different: “It’s been strange. Having to wear masks most of the time. We had to sign papers everywhere we went. I’ve taken multiple Covid tests. We have single rooms in hotels when we used to having roommates. Athletes were social distancing. The only time I spoke to other athletes was when we went downstairs to eat. We sat down to eat but for the most part nobody was interacting. Even at the track, it was pretty empty. When we were competing in America they were just using every other lane. So nothing was the same as usual. It was different but it didn’t affect anything. It didn’t make me not run well but it was an interesting experience. At times it felt more like training than competing.
“Competing with no spectators was different and didn’t feel like a competition – there were a few people there but not a lot. I still got a bit nervous but was a different kind of competition. Without a full stadium and people cheering for you, it’s definitely not as good for the athletes. But I knew I had to get things done so I still was able to get myself up and excited.
In her 12 races, she had six wins including the British Championship and nothing worse that 4th. The program included the Rome and Doha Diamond Leagues. Her assessment of 2020 was: “The biggest goal was to finish the season healthy and to get races in. And I was able to get quite a few races in. I was very happy with that and have some top place finishes. Speaking personally, I thrive off competition. I run better with a lot of races. I had a short indoor season and barely had an outdoor season, not starting until the end of July. That was very unusual for me because when I have run PBs in the past it has been after multiple races. I think that is partly why I have not run the times that I wanted to this year – because of the lack of races. But, all things considered, I think I did well. In a difficult year I brought it together and executed well for the most part. So in terms of my actual performances, I was happy with it. I’m not content, for I’d have liked to have done better, but at the same time I am happy with it”.