Marilyn Okoro has retired. The fine British middle-distance runner, who competed at 800m, and in the 4x400m, has ended a long and amazing career. Stuart Weir, who has seen Marilyn compete over 60 times, sent us this homage.
Marilyn Okoro retires
First Blanka now Maz! Two of my favorite athletes have retired in a week. I first met Maz (Always Maz, never Marilyn) in February 2008. I was privileged to watch her in the 2008 Olympics, the 2009, 2011 and 2013 World Championships, the 2010 European Championships and Commonwealth Games and the 2012 World Indoors.
An 800m runner she was regularly in the GB 4 by 400 squad winning Olympic, World and European medals. Her only individual medal was bronze at the 2011 European Indoors where she finished fifth but was upgraded to third when two athletes were later disqualified for doping. She was fourth in the 2007 and fifth in the 2009 European Indoor Championships – both times finishing behind athletics who later to serve doping bans. Such was life for the clean middle-distance runner in that era.
She was a brave runner and sometimes paid the price. In the 2009 European Indoors she led from the gun to the final straight where she was overtaken and finished fifth. It was a courageous run which nearly paid off but it was publicly described by the then GB head coach, Charles Van Commenee, as “naive and unprofessional”. When Maz who was clearly the UK Number one 800m runner in 2012, ran a bad race at the Olympic trials – again unsuccessfully front-running – van Commenee chose Lynsey Sharp and not Maz for the Olympics. Sharp who had never gone under 2 minutes up to that point was chosen on the basis of a B standard, meaning that GB could only select one 800m runner. Maz at that point had over 20 sub 2 runners under her belt. Sharp was seventh in the semi-final at London 2012 so the gamble had not paid off. Maz was included only for the relay squad – but was not selected to run. It was cruel decision from a head coach whose personal-management skills often left a bit to be desired.
Maz had a magnificent career. Not many athletes get to an Olympics, three world Championships etc. Several times the British champion. A load of creditable performances in Diamond Leagues etc. And in an era when she was often finishing behind Russian athletes who would later be caught as drug cheats. I probably saw her run about 60 times but I will pick four that stick in my memory.
1 The Beijing Olympics where she ran two 1:59s but still didn’t make the final. No shame in those runs.
Chistine Ohuruogu and Marilyn Okoro 2008, photo by Stuart Weir
2 The 2009 World Championship final when with 100 to go she was poised to be in the medals when an injury struck. She still finished in 2:00.32. But for the injury…
3 In 2011 she ran 1:59.85 in the Diamond League in Crystal Palace on a Saturday in August. Next day she took part in a club race, running well ahead of the field she finished in 1:59.53.
4 In 2013, she put the disaster of the British Championships and the disappointment of the non-Olympic selection the previous year by winning the British Championship and then running 1:59.85 in the first round in the Moscow World Championships.
A great athlete and a lovely person – with the biggest smile in British athletics.