'Helsinki 2012 is a rare opportunity to compete together in a major event just before the Olympics'
Anyika Onuora knows what it's like to stand on the podium at a European Athletics Championships. And she wants that experience again at this summer's Europeans in Helsinki.
"Winning a sprint relay silver medal at the 2006 Europeans was a fantastic moment for me," she said. "I had won a 4x100m silver at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne earlier in the year, and to win another in Gothenburg in what was my first year of major senior championships was unbelievable."
But the 27-year-old sprinter from Liverpool has even more than that powerful motivation as she trains and works towards Finland, which she believes will be an ideal stop for her en route to her ultimate station this season – the London 2012 Olympics.
Onuora says she has mixed memories of the Beijing 2008 Games, where she was a reserve for the relay squad but did not get a run. She wants to be a more active Olympian next month. The former European junior silver medallist in the 4x100m is also driven by the memory of a medical consultation soon after she had had an operation on her knee in 2010 when she was told that she might never be able to run to her full potential again. She is keen to show to the authorities in the UK, that the decision to take away her Lottery funding after the Beijing Games, a state of affairs which still remains, was not right.
And this year, above all, Onuora is running with renewed fervour in memory of her father. "My father, Chiz, passed away in February this year, and that has been hard for me," she said. "He has always been there for me in my career."
In the wake of her disappointment in Beijing, however, Onuora found herself something of a father figure in Lloyd Cowan, coach to Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu and European 110m hurdles champion Andy Turner.
"When I got back from China I made the difficult decision to leave Liverpool and start training in London with Lloyd," she said. "I felt I had got stale where I was. Whatever was going to happen, I felt I had to make a change. But it was a big decision to move away from my friends and family. It has been difficult at times. It has not all been a bed of roses.
"The Beijing Olympics were bittersweet for me, because although I was chosen for the relay squad I didn't get a run.
"When I lost my Lottery funding, UK Athletics told me I was not going to reach an Olympic final, and I was not going to get any quicker. Of course, I didn't agree with that, but I had to accept it for what it was. That was why making the world championship final last year was so important for me. And there's no reason why I can't do it again in the Olympics.
"I know there is no guarantee I can make the Olympic team. But I am determined to give it 100 per cent effort – even more so since losing my dad this year. It will be so disappointing that he won't be there to see me in London if I make the team.
"It hasn't been easy managing without that financial support, but I have a really good manager in Jamie Baulch, and I am doing quite a bit of part-time coaching.
"In 2010 I had an injury to my patella which required an operation, and I was given one medical opinion that I might not be able to run to my full potential again. So I missed out on the last European Athletics Championships in Barcelona – I was at home recuperating - and I also missed the Commonwealths in Delhi later that year.
"Lloyd was a fantastic help to me at that time. He used to give me a lot of early morning training sessions at Mile End stadium which helped me get back to the level where I am at now."
Last year Onuora made a significant step forward as she reached the 200m semi-finals of the IAAF World Championships in Daegu.
"The injury was really difficult to deal with," she said. "But last year I came back and it was my best season since 2006. I realised how much I missed the event, and how much I loved it. When you compete at a world class level it is a feeling that you don't ever, ever want to let go."
She is looking forward now to Helsinki, and the Olympic stadium in which she has never yet competed.
"I really enjoyed the experience of Gothenburg. It was a nice way to step up for me, competing against the best in Europe.
"And I think Helsinki is going to be really good too. The Europeans are a fantastic opportunity for athletes who want to compete in a big championship. It will be a great way for the relay squad to get together in a competitive environment before the London Olympics start."
Onuora indicated her buoyant form at the start of June as she competed in Regensburg and equalled the 200m personal best of 22.93sec she had set in the heats at Daegu the previous season.
The only cloud on the horizon is the problem a number of Onuora's potential sprint relay team-mates have had in getting clear of injury, with Jeanette Kwayke being the most recently affected as she has had her preparations undermined by an Achilles tendon problem.
"There have been a whole lot of changes in the squad over the past two years," Onuora said. "One thing I've always said is that we have such a depth of talent among our sprinters. But unfortunately we have suffered a lot from injuries in recent weeks.
"That's why Helsinki is going to be so important for us, because it will be a rare opportunity to compete together in a major championship before London 2012. We are limited in terms of time. But despite the problems we have had, I am sure we can put a good team together and we can be very competitive. As I say, there have been a lot of changes recently – but I'm still standing, fortunately!
"We will have races in Helsinki, and then the Diamond League in London, and that will probably be our only races before the Olympics. So we need to make them count.
"Things have not been all good for me since the last Olympics. But I think this year is going to be a great year for me."