Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with Great Britain hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton...
Brought up in Bow, East London - just a stone’s throw away from the Olympic Stadium - 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton grew up in a family of Arsenal supporters and has always called the Gunners her team.
One of the ‘poster girls’ for 2012, Perri was a talented junior but really came to prominence in 2010 when claiming a bronze medal in the European Championships, in a personal best of 54.18 seconds. Of British athletes, only Sally Gunnell and Natasha Danvers have run quicker.
She narrowly failed to make the final at last year’s World Championships but in the recent World Indoor Championships, Perri was back in the headlines again, producing a stunning last leg in the 4x400 to anchor the GB girls to gold.
The vivacious 23 year-old - who graduated in Sports Science from Brunel University last year - was quick to admit that she isn’t what you would call immersed in all things Arsenal, but numerous family ties with the Club mean there has only ever been one team to follow.
Tell us a bit about your Gunners’ support…
My family are all Arsenal supporters - you should have heard our house when we were making that comeback against Tottenham, it was going mad, people were screaming! We’re from east London but my Aunty Hyacinth lives just around the corner from the stadium and my cousin played for Arsenal Ladies when she was younger, so there are strong links.
And your cousin isn’t the only link to Arsenal Ladies is she?
My cousin, Roschelle Shakes, played for Arsenal Ladies when she was younger, and I remember going down to a game at Highbury to see her receive a presentation on the pitch. I know a few of the Arsenal girls actually, Alex Scott comes from near me and I got to know Lianne Sanderson when she was playing with Roschelle - I think she’s in the States now. I only ever played football in the playground - I wasn’t any good, just toe-punted it!
Who were your Arsenal heroes growing up?
Wrighty, obviously, and I loved Dennis Bergkamp too. David Seaman was another of my favourites as was Freddie Ljungberg - I think it was his red hair!
You mentioned a trip to Wimbledon, your recent success must have opened a few exciting doors for you...
Yes, and I‘ve met a few players and other sports people through Nike and various other events - and people from the music industry too. It’s nice to get these opportunities as I’ve become more successful - like being a footballer without the money! Nike have actually been kind enough to invite me to Emirates before. I love Emirates Stadium - it’s so impressive inside but outside too with the statues and the pictures of the legends.
We hear that your coach, Chris Zah, never stops talking about Arsenal!
He’s a huge fan, a proper diehard. He is also from Bow and when he was younger he used to walk to Highbury for games, that shows his dedication. The Tottenham game was a big one in athletics. One of the GB coaches, Lloyd Cowan, is a big Spurs fan so there was lots of banter with Chris.
So many athletes are Gooners – did you see Nike made up some special Arsenal spikes for Mo Farah and David Oliver?
Yes, I would love some of those! There seem to be lots of Arsenal athletes out there. I noticed Mo had some Beats by Dre Arsenal headphones too!
Onto your athletics, it’s been an incredible couple of years for you, starting with that bronze medal at the European Championships...
I kind of surprised myself really as I wasn’t expected to get a medal at the European Champs but then I wasn’t too happy with my performance in the World Championships last year, I missed out on getting to the final by one hundredth of the second. But the way I look at it is that the disappointment happened at the right time. I can learn from that, use it as a positive.
Then that unbelievable finish to the 4x400 in Istanbul last in March...
That was my first time running this season and was unexpected. We wanted a medal and to get the gold was magnificent. My legs felt like jelly coming down that home straight! You just don’t want to let anyone down in the relay. I go into the relay knowing I’m going to put 100 per cent into it and I don’t want to make any mistakes.
Can you imagine what it will be like having 80,000 fans cheering you on this summer?
It will be incredible. I was invited down to the stadium recently and did a few hurdles, which was a great experience. I love a crowd and to see the stadium and imagine it packed with GB fans it’s like, wow! It’s been amazing to see the transformation of that area over the last few years. The stadium is only a mile and a half from my house. When I was little the site of the stadium was Hackney Market and we used to go down there and buy fake CDs!
When we won the Games in 2005 did you immediately have Olympic dreams?
To be honest I didn’t. Back then, when it was announced, I wasn’t even thinking about being at an Olympics. I was a really late developer, even at 15 or 16 I didn’t really compete and wasn’t outstanding in my age group, I just enjoyed running. But then I went to the English Schools championships and won with a British record so I thought, I’ll keep going!’
Who will be your main rivals this summer?
Girls like Melanie Walker, Kaleise Spencer and Lashinda Demus. The Jamaicans and Americans are a big threat but I’m hoping I can be right up there with them.
Is the Olympics always on your mind?
I don’t think about it too much, I try to take every day as it comes, but people keep asking me about it! I just can’t wait for the experience.
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