Oxford athlete sets sight on Olympic gold

Before interviewing Hannah Ruddick, I was concerned about my lack of time. I had an essay to hand in for the next day and I was desperately trying to find sports articles to replace the one’s that were destroyed by the recent bad weather. After speaking to her for half an hour, I realised it should not have been me complaining about a hectic schedule. Ruddick is possibly the busiest student in Oxford, having to maintain a rigorous Olympic training regime in between labs, tutorials and lectures. She’s been up since four o’clock, but this is nothing out of the ordinary. Having played international volleyball for six years, she is aware of what is required to achieve in sport. Not that this makes it any easier: “It’s really stressful; not just trying to find time for work but also having a social life as well. Over Christmas, I had just three days off: I’m in an unusual position.” Unusual is an understatement; both of her circumstance and of her capacity to cope with pressure. When asked about the prospect of playing for her country in the 2012 Olympics, she is clearly excited but remains pragmatic. “Playing in front of a home crowd will be amazing and there will certainly be a degree of pressure attached. But British Athletes are not expected to do well at the moment so it’s an interesting mixture. The main pressure will come from inside of me.” “I analyse everything. I’m such a perfectionist and it’s a massive problem. Even in a game like Monopoly, I’m really bad. I can’t bear losing- I throw away all my silver medals as they remind me of defeat.” In light of this inbuilt competitiveness, I ask her if she can relate with disgraced former Olympic winner Marion Jones, who was imprisoned for six months on Monday for lying to doping investigators. “I can understand her situation. Like all international athletes, she was preoccupied with being the best and winning at any cost. She just overstepped the mark.” The mark that she refers to is a complex one that is continually changing under the jurisdiction of The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). “All international athletes are making amendments to their dietsthat’s enhancing their performances and it is hard because the guidelines are shifting all the time. I have to be particularly careful in a social situation. If someone is smoking cannabis, I have to leave as it could be enough to contaminate a drug test.” For someone who reputedly has an offer of a professional contract in Venice waiting for her, her enthusiasm for university sport surprises me. On the 9th of February, she will be playing in the annual Volleyball Varsity match: “I’m so psyched for the Cambridge game; I’ve been thinking about it for months. I just want to destroy them.” Perhaps it is this rational agression that will bring Britain success in 2012.By Harry McDowell