Marilyn Okoro

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"If you want to excel at anything it's all about dedication, perseverance and practising day-in-day-out," says the 800m runner.

Raise Your Game: Can you tell us a little bit about the French course you did at university?

Marilyn Okoro: I went to the University of Bath and studied French and Politics. I loved languages all through school. I stuck with French and it's nice to speak another language. With athletics you travel the world. French is really widely spoken, so I get to practise quite a bit.

RYG: How difficult is it to balance a university education with the training required to perform on the track?

MO: Lots of athletes try to stay in university for a long time because of the flexibility of the courses. During the final years of your course the two can sometimes clash. It's quite hard to have two big priorities in your life. You need to stay motivated. For me it was nice to have a distraction from exams.

RYG: What's the French for 'I am a winner'?

MO: Je suis la gagneuse.

RYG: What skills can you take from sport into learning another language?


Marilyn Okoro

23 September 1984

Stratford, London



  • Bronze - 4x400m - European Championships, Barcelona (2010)
  • Eighth - 800m - IAAF World Championships, Berlin (2009)
  • Bronze - 800m - IAAF World Athletics Final, Stuttgart (2008)
  • Bronze - 4x400m - IAAF World Championships, Osaka (2007)
  • Winner - UK Indoor Championships (2007)

MO: If you want to excel at anything it's all about dedication, perseverance and practising day-in-day-out. If you're learning a language you've got to practise every day. It was really important for me to do something else and languages was my other strength. It's really helped me develop myself as an athlete and given me a distraction outside of athletics as well.

RYG: Is there any message you'd like to pass to Colin Jackson in French?

MO: Bonjour Colin. Je veux dire que vous est un grand inspiration pour moi. Moi, j'ai pris des langues à l'université, mais c'est importante de faire le chose qui motivé. Bon chance.

RYG: Did balancing your studies with athletics give you extra skills in time management?

MO: Definitely. I remember competing at the Commonwealth Games in March 2006. That's prime dissertation time so I had to really organise my time and make a few big sacrifices. I decided to defer my dissertation. Where there's a will there's always a way. Instead of doing a four year course I did a five year course, so there's always a way to make it work.

RYG: Has the language come in useful when you've been training or in competition abroad?

MO: Definitely. We just had the Europa Cup in Annecy (June 2008), which is in France. I was speaking in French the whole time, so it definitely comes in handy.

RYG: How difficult is the transition from being a student to being a full-time professional athlete?

MO: It's very difficult, because it's 24/7. Everything you do impacts on it. It's a fun job but it's very different. You need to manage your time and be disciplined. Above all you need self belief.

RYG: Who are good women role models for you in this sport?

MO: We've got great role models, especially in the UK. There's Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe, Kelly Sotherton and Donna Fraser, who is a dear friend and training partner of mine. You can learn so much from people like that.

RYG: What skills do those people have that make them special?

MO: Just how they apply themselves. This is my first full-time year so it's great to learn the lifestyle from those guys.

RYG: How important is it to train the mind as well as the body?

MO: You train your mind as you train your body. It's really important. At this level everyone's physically talented. When you step onto that track in a final it's about who can keep it together the most. That's where your mind comes into play.

RYG: How do you go about preparing for a race?

MO: I prepare for my races as I would an exam. It's all about preparing yourself for those two hours or those two minutes. It's really similar.

RYG: Should a young person about to go into an exam treat it like their big race?

MO: Definitely! Preparation is the key.

RYG: If you had to encourage young girls to take part in sport, what would your message be?

MO: I'm just an ordinary girl like you guys. If I can do it so can you. There'll be ups and downs but the ups definitely outweigh the downs, so just stick at it.

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