Mr Collins, the drama teacher, knew how to motivate us. We were trying to grow up, to act like adults, and he helped us make that transition

15th April 2005 at 01:00
I was born in America and lived there for the first two years of my life, but I don't remember anything about it. Then we moved to Ghana. The school I went to there wasn't like schools in England. All I remember were the punishments - the cane, or a rap across the knuckles - for minor things such as talking in class.

They didn't have PE or sport either; it was all pretty academic. I used to run around at home all the time. We lived on a hill at the top of a dirt road and I used to race down it with friends.

My dad worked for the United Nations and when I was eight his job changed so we moved to England. At first we were in north London, and then Poplar, east London. I have a lot of good childhood memories, but some bad ones too. There was a lot of racism.

I joined Susan Lawrence junior school halfway through the year so most kids already had friends. I was an outsider, and one of only two black children in the school. It was mostly name-calling, that sort of thing. You can't blame the children; they didn't know how to relate to a black child, especially one with a heavy African accent. I learned quickly how to speak differently.

The teacher I remember was Mr Goody. He was the first one who spotted my talent and introduced me to athletics. There was a whole-school race where we would line up and race across the grounds. I started to run and accidentally tripped up the fastest girl in the school. I finished the race, and won it, and everyone hated me even more. Then they re-ran it and I still won. Mr Goody saw me running and took me to the local racetrack. It was great. I loved running and jumping. I used to love all the sports we did at school such as rounders and roller-skating, and I was in the cricket team.

I went to Central Foundation school for girls for a couple of years. I found it hard to settle in. It was weird, like going from being a young kid to having to behave like a young adult. I wasn't ready. But there was a PE teacher who taught me high jump. I can't remember his name, but he used to take time at lunch to coach me.

We moved to Essex, partly to a bigger house and partly because my parents got weary of the racism and didn't want to bring me and my sister up with that around us. It wasn't much better. I went to Mayflower high school and there was just me and one black boy. The racism wasn't bad, but it was certainly there.

There wasn't much sport at that school, but my friend invited me to the local track and I joined Ilford Athletics Club. That's where I began to compete and train properly, mostly long jump and sprints, and I had a coach.

The teacher I remember wasn't a PE teacher, but Mr Collins, my drama teacher. He died after I left school, but I remember seeing him cycle past our house every day. He was brilliant and knew how to communicate on our level. He knew how to motivate us. We were trying to grow up, to act like adults, and he helped us make that transition. You could have a laugh and joke with him and he wouldn't take it to heart. He seemed to understand where we were coming from.

I left school at 17 and won my first international vest, as a long jumper, competing for Great Britain juniors in Ipswich. I didn't do the triple jump until I was 21, and not seriously until I was 23. There wasn't any triple jump for women then. There was hoo-ha about it being bad for women; they said it would damage the pelvis and knees and affect fertility.

The best thing I've got out of school was learning I've got a talent. I had a go at everything, and that's important. You don't know what you're going to be good at. The racism had an effect, too. It made me tougher, thicker skinned, and more focused, which is pretty important for an athlete.

Triple jump champion Ashia Hansen was talking to Matthew Brown

The story so far

1971 Born in Indiana, US; adopted by an Englishwoman and her Ghanaian husband

1974-79 Moves to Ghana then London

1980-85 Attends Susan Lawrence junior school and Central Foundation school for girls, Tower Hamlets; then Mayflower high school, Essex

1989 Wins first international, competing in long jump for Great Britain juniors

1998 European indoor gold; world indoor record; gold at Commonwealth Games for triple jump

2002 Wins Commonwealth Games and European championships

2004 Fractures knee cap in European Cup, dashing her Olympic ambitions April 19 2005 Carries 2006 Commonwealth Games baton at Trafalgar Square

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