4th August 2018


For Nicola Sanders, her first and only Olympic Games experience in Beijing in 2008 ended in disappointment; just missing out on a place in the final of the 400m and a fifth-place finish in the women’s 4x400m relay. But 10 years later, the now 36-year-old and mother of two looks back on her experience in Beijing very differently.

“I can just remember coming away from those Games absolutely devastated. I competed in Osaka [2007 World Championships] the year before, where I got the silver medal and we had won the bronze medal. It was an amazing career high, so my expectations were really high,” Sanders said.

“I remember meeting my Mum after my individual race underneath the stands and I just burst into tears because I was so gutted. I think I just missed out on a final place by just a few hundredths of a second. I was so close from getting into the final, so I was just so gutted after the year before. And then we missed out on a medal in the relay, so I came away really, really disappointed.

“But looking back, I should have come away thinking that was an amazing championships for me,” the British 400m indoor record holder added.

Ten years on from Beijing, Sanders can now say she is an Olympic bronze medallist after the 4x400m relay squad were promoted to third following the second and fourth place teams being disqualified for doping violations after a reanalysis of samples.

Sanders was presented with the medal at the Müller Anniversary Games on 21 July.

“It was a little bit surreal because it was 10 years ago, but now we have got the medal it feels a bit more real. The actual day was lovely; all my family and friends were there and to share it with the girls again was really nice. Being in the London Stadium with the crowd was really, really lovely,” Sanders said.

“I am in a completely different place now, so it was nice to be able to share it with my family and friends, especially my two boys, but I don’t think they really understood what was going on. It was nice though for them to see what mummy was doing before I was running around after them.”

(Image credit: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Sanders began her career competing in the 400m Hurdles, but, from 2006, she focussed solely on the flat 400m after struggling with injuries.

“I was so frustrated at that point because I started to run faster over the flat, but I couldn’t get the hurdles right and my knee and my back were playing up so much that we knew we needed to park the hurdles and just focus on the flat.

“Initially it was just going to be for a year, to get on top of the injuries, so I thought OK that is fine. But then the following year I ran 50 seconds we were like ‘OK, this is what we are doing now’. It was quite an easy decision to make once it was made.”

The transition from hurdles to the flat 400m proved to be successful for Sanders. In just her eighth outdoor 400m race, the former Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow Athletic Club athlete claimed world silver behind teammate Christine Ohuruogu at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan in what was a historic day for the GB & NI team on the track.

Her time of 49.65 not only saw Sanders miss out on gold by four hundredths of a second, but it remains the fourth quickest time ever by a British female over 400m.

“I definitely wasn’t expecting to win a silver medal. Obviously, I had run the fast time indoors, but you don’t know whether you can replicate that again. After the European Indoor Championships, I hadn’t really trained, I struggled with an Achilles injury all year, and I think I had run closer to 51 seconds than 50 seconds going into the championships in Osaka, so I didn’t have any expectation,” the 36-year-old said.

“Then when we got to the holding camp, I started running really well and everything just seemed to click. I ran the heats and I was jogging, I ran the semi-final and I felt I was just jogging and not pushing, and then I was one of the fastest qualifiers and then you are like ‘oh my goodness, I could win it, I could do really well, I could get a medal here’. It kind of happened without me having a chance to think about it. But it was never on my radar until that point at all.”

Her success at the World Championships came just a few months after Sanders won the 400m European Indoor title in Birmingham, with a personal best and British Indoor record of 50.02 seconds.

“The world silver medal is definitely my best achievement, but I think because you come second you don’t have as fond memories. When I finished the race, I was actually disappointed, which sounds ridiculous because I had just finished second at a World Championships. I was upset because I felt like I should have been able to win.

“Whereas, European Indoors, where I broke the British and Commonwealth record, I feel like I have fonder memories of that because it was a massive personal best and a time I didn’t think I should have run. So, I have fonder memories of that and in the relay in Osaka I managed to get us on the fourth leg into the medal positions, so I have fonder memories of those which is strange.”

(Image credit: Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Sanders decided to retire from athletics in 2014 after further years of struggling with injury. And, having now spent four years away from the sport, Sanders says she has now begun to appreciate what she achieved during her career. A career which includes 10 senior international medals, including five world championship medals, and world and European indoor titles.

“The last two years I was really frustrated that I was unable to compete, so I became just fed up, and when you are still involved in the sport, you tend to focus on the negatives, but if you told me when I started my career what I would go on to achieve I probably wouldn’t have believed you. I would have bitten your hand off to have the career I have had.

“I think now I have had the space from it, I feel like I appreciate it more. Having the two medals awarded last year and the Olympic medal this year has allowed me to look back on it. I think you appreciate what you have done a bit more once you have had the space from it.”

Despite retiring four years ago, Sanders still lives life in the fast lane swapping running around a track for running around after her two children: Oliver and Dexter.

“I retired at the end of 2014 and then I had my first son, Oliver in August 2015, so I didn’t really have much of a break before having him. And then I didn’t have much of a break before having Dexter, so it has been pretty full on just looking after baby boys since I retired. I have swapped running around a track for running around after two boys which is just as hard if not harder than being a 400 metre runner.

“It’s challenging in a different way, but it has been really good. I think I needed that complete break from the sport, it is such a different life and I think that’s why it has been such an easy transition because I feel like it is a different lifetime.”