NAOMI OGBETA

BRI­TISH CHAM­PION NAOMI OGBETA IS MAK­ING A NAME FOR HER­SELF AS SHE JUG­GLES ATH­LET­ICS, A POL­I­TICS DE­GREE AND IM­PROV COM­EDY

Athletics Weekly - - Contents - WORDS: PAUL HAL­FORD PIC­TURES: MARK SHEAR­MAN

Triple jumper is mak­ing a name for her­self in ath­let­ics and on the im­prov com­edy cir­cuit

WHEN Naomi Ogbeta started in ath­let­ics at the age of 14, she gave her­self a dead­line of the next sea­son to make the English Schools Cham­pi­onships – or she would quit.

For­tu­nately for Bri­tish ath­let­ics, the Traf­ford AC ath­lete with a pas­sion for per­form­ing com­edy suc­ceeded. She may have fin­ished one place from the back in her heat of the 200m, but it was the cat­a­lyst for a triple jump ca­reer which has al­ready taken the 20-year-old to third on the UK all-time list. De­spite her goal to make peo­ple laugh off the track, when it comes to ath­let­ics she is se­ri­ous about her am­bi­tions.

“I re­mem­ber I quit do­ing drama to do ath­let­ics, so I thought ‘if I don’t at least get to English Schools in sprint­ing I’m go­ing to quit’,” ad­mits Ogbeta, who added more than half a me­tre to her pre-sea­son best in mak­ing the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships fi­nal this sum­mer with 14.15m.

Com­ing back to that piv­otal English Schools mo­ment, she says: “That’s when some­body from Traf­ford saw that I was quite fast but I had re­ally bad tech­nique.”

At Traf­ford AC, the man who was to be­come her coach,

Tom Cullen, asked her which events she wanted to do, to which she replied the sprints. How­ever, her fa­ther Mathias – a for­mer North­ern triple jump cham­pion – butted in with “and triple jump too”.

It proved to be a timely in­ter­ven­tion – although she stresses she was never pushed into the sport by her dad, who had a best of 15.66m from 1995. “He al­lowed me to find my own in­ter­ests,” she says.

Ogbeta also re­cently dis­cov­ered her grand­fa­ther in Nige­ria had been a triple jumper too. Although she is not sure what stan­dard he reached, it’s safe to say the lat­est gen­er­a­tion has al­ready eclipsed their achieve­ments.

Hav­ing set a UK un­der-17 record of 12.61m, she com­peted at the IAAF World Youth Cham­pi­onships and two years later won bronze at the Euro­pean Ju­niors. She has also won two Bri­tish out­door ti­tles.

“I KNOW I BROKE THE

[BRI­TISH] UN­DER-23 RECORD THIS

YEAR AND I THINK WHAT’S LEFT NOW IS THE BRI­TISH RECORD AND THE WORLD

RECORD. I’VE AL­WAYS EN­JOYED BREAK­ING RECORDS AND SEE­ING

HOW FAR I CAN BET­TER

MY­SELF”

Yet de­spite all that, she de­scribes her­self as a “lucky jumper” and be­lieves she has much she can im­prove upon.

When asked about she thought her main at­tribute was for the dis­ci­pline, Ogbeta, who fol­lowed her ap­pear­ance in the Euro­pean fi­nal with one on stage do­ing im­prov at the renowned Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, says: “At the mo­ment I’d say I’m just a lucky jumper. I know that doesn’t re­ally make sense, but it’s only re­ally been the last two com­pe­ti­tions where I’ve sort of used my speed. I still don’t think I’ve fully used my run­way as much as pos­si­ble. I’ve been quite lucky to have been able to jump this far with­out tap­ping in to some­thing a lot of jumpers do have that I haven’t de­vel­oped yet. When I am stronger and I am faster, my dis­tances should im­prove.”

Ogbeta says that even on her 14.15m jump in Ber­lin, she didn’t hit the board right – as usual, she points out. She be­lieves also that be­com­ing stronger will be to her ben­e­fit, but she and Cullen are keen to be grad­ual with the ad­di­tion of weights work.

She also thinks com­pet­ing against the best in the world in events such as the Di­a­mond League will bring her on fur­ther.

Speak­ing about Ber­lin, she says: “It was re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause of­ten I’ve watched Di­a­mond League videos on YouTube and to see the peo­ple I’ve seen on there or on TV was, not quite over­whelm­ing, but I was quite happy to be there and I felt I be­longed there as well – es­pe­cially after mak­ing the fi­nal, I felt I could con­tend with these in the fu­ture.”

The Euro­pean fi­nal put her in at the deep end but hav­ing coped well with the pres­sure, she is look­ing for­ward to tak­ing on her idol, Olympic cham­pion Ca­ter­ine Ibar­guen.

Be­fore that, her next fo­cus after she re­turns to train­ing in Oc­to­ber, will be the Euro­pean In­door Cham­pi­onships in Glas­gow, but in the longer term she has big am­bi­tions.

“I’d like to con­tinue to break records,” says the stu­dent of pol­i­tics and quan­ti­ta­tive meth­ods at the Univer­sity of Manch­ester. “I know I broke the [Bri­tish] un­der-23 record this year and I think what’s left now is the Bri­tish record and the world record. I’ve al­ways en­joyed break­ing records and see­ing how far I can bet­ter my­self.”

Even the Bri­tish records – cur­rently held by Ashia

Hansen at 15.15m (out­doors) and 15.16m (in­doors) – are am­bi­tious tar­gets, while Inessa Kravets’ world mark of 15.50m is an­other gi­ant leap fur­ther. How­ever, un­like most young ath­letes, she is not afraid to re­veal her lofty ca­reer tar­gets.

If it doesn’t go to plan quickly, will she leave the run­way for the com­edy stage or does she have more pa­tience than that 14-year-old who set out in the sport six years ago?

“My mind­set has def­i­nitely changed,” she said, “be­cause I’ve learned that there is more to

ath­let­ics than just achieve­ments. In 2016 I didn’t achieve that much but I learned so much and I made so many amaz­ing friends and things like that ...

“I want to stick with ath­let­ics be­cause I do gen­uinely en­joy it and I think when I stop en­joy­ing it that’s when I’ll just stop. It’s not re­ally about ‘if I don’t achieve this or this by then I’m go­ing to stop’. It’s more about if I stop en­joy­ing the sport I’m go­ing to stop and do some­thing I do en­joy, but at the mo­ment I re­ally do love triple jump­ing. And I think peo­ple can see that when I com­pete.”

As long as this con­tin­ues, this would-be comic has the po­ten­tial to go to the top in triple jump – and that’s no joke.

Bri­tish triple jump cham­pion: Naomi Ogbeta

Naomi Ogbetawith De­lano Wil­liams (left) and El­liot Giles

On the rise: Naomi Ogbeta has a best of 14.15m but is look­ing for fur­ther im­prove­ments in 2019

TASS awards 2017: Ogbeta: meets triple jump leg­end Jonathan Ed­wards

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