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Shirley Strong
I would have loved to have been one of those gold medallists
 real 14k

banner Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Take a look at me now

Shirley Strong was the toast of British women's athletics after winning 100m hurdles silver at the Los Angeles Olympics. BBC Sport Online's Chris Charles caught up with her at her home near Manchester.

If Olympic gold medals were dished out for popularity, Shirley Strong would have a bucketload.

Back in the 1980s, this no frills northern lass was the pin-up girl of British athletics, adored by a public who saw her as "one of us".

This was the young woman who, shock, horror, liked to go out on the town now and again. She even admitted sneaking off for a crafty fag after competing.

Shirley Strong
In the 1980s, Shirley was one of the world's top athletes
"I think because people thought I was not the normal athlete, it made it more achievable for others," she suggests.

"The fact that I was not the model athlete - I used to go out, have a good time, have a good laugh - and I smoked - had an effect on how the public felt about me.

"They thought I was a little bit different from all the dedicated athletes that did nothing but train and compete all the time."

But what about the myth that she preferred the high life to putting the hours in on the track?

"People thought I didn't train very hard, which was not true," she stresses. "I did train very hard."

Hard enough to walk away with an Olympic silver medal from Los Angeles in 1984.

Boycott

It was Shirley's finest hour, but mention the race and her warm smile momentarily disappears into a frown.

"Because of the boycott from the east Europeans everybody had got me down as favourite, which just put on so much pressure, " she recalls.

"I had an injury problem at the begining of the year but I got over that and I still felt I could win it.

"But it didn't work out on the day - she ran a little bit faster than I did and it knocked me back into silver."


I've only watched the video of the race twice. I don't like to watch it - I find it quite distressing!
  Shirley Strong
The "she" in question was Benita Fitzgerald Brown of the United States.

The American ran the race of her life to win in 12.84 seconds - 4/100ths of a second quicker than the Briton.

Shirley shrugs. "She hadn't done much before the Olympics and didn't do much afterwards. But that's the way it goes.

"I ran as well as I could on the day and it wasn't quite good enough."

Since then she has re-run the race in her head "hundreds of times" although not on the television.

Achilles

"With it being the boycott year there were a few British medallists, but only two won gold. I would have loved to have been one of those," she sighs.

"I've only watched the video of the race twice. I don't like to watch it - I find it quite distressing!

"But it's only occasionally I think about it - like when the major championships are on.

"I'm watching it on TV and I'm thinking 'I'm sure I could still do it'.

But it's just in the head - my mind's willing, but my body isn't!"

Shirley did not get another shot at Olympic glory.


I didn't feel like I wanted to be doing it any more. I didn't want to be training four or five hours a day
  Shirley Strong

Plagued by Achilles problems after coming back from LA, she was mortified not to qualify for the 1986 Commonwealth Games.

"I lost a lot of motivation then," she concedes.

"I did the indoor season in 1987 and then just thought 'I've had enough'.

"I didn't feel like I wanted to be doing it any more. I didn't want to be training four or five hours a day - I'd had enough."

Since then Shirley has chosen to stay out of the limelight, spending time with her husband and two young daughters.

"I always said, before I got married, that if I had children I would devote 100% of my time to them - and that's what I've done.

"When they were both old enough to go to school I started a little part-time job to occupy me - perhaps when they're at high school I'll get a proper job!"

And what about the running?

"Er, I'm not very motivated at that," she chuckles.

"After 15 years of training such a lot, I don't see the point of doing it just for fun.

Natter

"I have recently started going to the gym twice a week and I go hill running once a week with an old athlete friend.

"It's more for the social side than anything else - we just have a good natter!

"To be honest I'll do something for a few weeks to keep fit and then I'll get fed up. I'm a bit lazy now!

"The people in the gym that know who I am expect me to be a bit better than I am, but I'm probably not much fitter than them."

Shirley Strong
Shirley proudly shows off her silver medal
A lot of people don't recognise Shirley these days - and she's more than happy with that.

Even her daughters are quite blase about the fact mum was once one of the world's top athletes.

"They don't really realise the significance of the Olympics yet.

"The only time the eldest really took any notice was when I won a mum's race at her school.

"I got presented with a ribbon and when we got home I showed her my Olympic medal.

"She looked at it, then looked up at me and said 'But mummy, you've got a ribbon!'"

Nothing like bringing you back down to Earth!

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05 Apr 01 |  Funny Old Game
Armytage Geed up for National
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07 Mar 01 |  Funny Old Game
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