Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Politics, comedy and triple jump: the hectic lifestyle of British champion Naomi Ogbeta

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Peter White

Feelings of awe, inspiration and, to some extent, disbelief are surely engrained within those closely associated with Naomi Ogbeta.

Indeed, following a mere 45 minute conversation with her I was left puzzled; trying to fathom how on earth this young athlete manages to combine the range of activities that consume her hectic timetable, while still competing at the very top.

Ogbeta, 20, is a final year politics and quantitative methods student at the University of Manchester. She is also a member of the university’s comedy society. Yet, she manages to keep a smile on her face as she balances all of that with what comes of being Britain’s top-ranked, female triple jumper.

“It’s not actually too bad,” she chuckled. “Last semester I was only in one or two days a week so that made it really easy and I could fit it all around training pretty well.

“The extra work can be a bit annoying. There was one time at an event when I was literally sat on a high jump bed trying to do an assignment because I didn’t have much time to do it. But it’s not too bad, the nature of my course means it’s quite manageable.”

While Ogbeta is able to fit the course around her training without having to split her final year in two as many athletes do, she is evidentially passionate about her studies, and applies them to her sport too.

She said: “I’ve always just enjoyed politics. I used to be in the Salford Youth Council, but when athletics became a lot more I couldn’t do it as much.

“I think I’ve studied it at the most interesting time ever. I’ve been on the BBC News and BBC Radio 5 live as well talking about Brexit. It’s always been about trying to inspire young people to get involved in terms of voting or just making politics more understandable and less scary.”

Ogbeta has appeared on the BBC to discuss political issues, including Brexit /Naomi Ogbeta

Besides her appearances on TV and the radio, Ogbeta is well known for her active engagement with fans through social media, particularly by vlogging.

“I’ve always been making videos, since I was like nine,” she said. “When I was in high school, people found out and laughed at me, but once I started athletics that gave me the confidence to just do what I wanted.

“When I started bringing my camera to competitions, people wanted to be in them and a lot of people do like it. I’ve started doing fan shout-outs and it just makes it a bit more fun with more people involved.”

Increasing the use of social media is something Ogbeta hopes to apply to her comedy performances, something she has been involved in since she started university.

She said: “I need to get more comedy on social media. I did have to stop it [comedy] for a while, just because of training and my dissertation and stuff. But I still really enjoy it and I’ll definitely go back to it.

“I live at home so I felt it was going to be a bit harder for me to make friends at uni, so I decided I needed to find a society to join.

“After the European Championships in August, I went straight to Edinburgh to go to the Fringe Festival. I was so tired and I couldn’t think quickly, but it was still a really good experience.

“I think it’s been really helpful for me, especially last year just giving me that confidence to go on stage and do the improv that I did. If you can do that, then you can basically do anything.”

Ogbeta’s athletics career certainly reaped the benefits of that increased confidence and belief. Last year’s breakthrough season saw her rise meteorically through the world rankings, smashing her way through to the final of the European Championships in Berlin via a British under-23 record of 14.15m — the third furthest a British woman has ever jumped — which would have been good enough for bronze at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

She said: “This time last year the Europeans wasn’t really one of my goals — I’d basically just broken 13m and I think the standard was 13.90m. But, it was my first year as an under-23 and there weren’t any under-23 competitions, so it was the only thing I could really aim for.

“Training just went well and I guess as training progressed it just seemed more of a reality. I was really shocked but really happy with how the season went.”

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Ogbeta qualified for the final of the 2018 European Championships with a British under-23 record jump of 14.15m.

But even Ogbeta’s route into triple jump wasn’t straight forward. In fact, part of the reason that her successes have all been so sudden is that she’s only being doing the sport since she was 16.

“I couldn’t find a sport I was very good at. I was terrible at team sports for some reason, but then we did sprinting in school when I was 14 or 15 and I joined the local club.

“At English Schools a coach saw me and he said my technique was pretty bad but asked me to go to Trafford. That’s when my dad suggested I did triple jump as well and we just gave it a go.

“That year we focussed on both the 200m and triple jump, but gradually it seemed more likely that I was going to do well in triple jump so we decided to completely focus on that.”

The influence of Ogbeta’s father is particularly prominent as he is a former triple jumper himself. However, that isn’t where the talent stops in the hectic household, with 17-year-old brother Nathanael an up-and-coming footballer for Manchester City and England.

“My dad’s been a triple jumper so he knows how it feels and he knows how to describe things to me in a way that I get, which does really help.

“My brother inspired me to get into sport. Seeing him go to training and come back with a man-of-the-match trophy or something, it just made me think, ‘I want to get trophies and medals as well.’

“I think we both motivate each other. I remember he said in a penalty shootout he felt super nervous, but then he remembered he’d watched me compete on my own so many times which helped him.

“Away from sport, my mum’s also pretty talented as a writer. She writes poems and she’s written a play that’s started to be put into production — they’re doing auditions for it now which is cool.”

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Ogbeta’s younger brother, Nathanael (right), has represented Manchester City in the EFL Trophy this season.

After becoming only the third British woman to go beyond 14m indoors by winning the British Indoor Championships in Birmingham earlier this month, Ogbeta will surely demand the attention of her whole family as she bids for glory at the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow, which runs from March 1st to 3rd.

She said: “I’d like to get top six or contend for a medal at the European Indoors, because I do like indoors and there’ll be a home crowd.”

Beyond that, Ogbeta is targeting success at the World Championships in Doha later this year, and ultimately, next year’s Tokyo Olympic Games.

“After Glasgow, I’m aiming for the European under-23s and then the World Championships.

“I think if I improve again the way I have been then I could be in contention for a medal at the Olympics. But for now it’s just slow progression, seeing how I get on. I think for 2024 I could really be at my peak.”

In the meantime, Ogbeta is set for a hugely busy year with her plans to get back into comedy and increase her media work during what is a crucial time for both her studies and her athletics career. However, having spoken to her for just a short while, I sure wouldn’t put it past her to succeed on all fronts.

Featured photograph/5or6/