Updated 27 August 2010
Tosin OKE, Nigeria (Long/Triple Jump)
Born: October 1, 1980, London
1.79m / 77kg
Coach: Guy Spencer
Manager: John Regis
Has dual British and Nigerian citizenship
Tosin Oke was brought up with a combination of both Nigerian and British culture. “It enabled me to see things from a very different perspective from most of my peers,” he said. Oke attended Amhurst Primary School in Hackney, East London, and left a year early to study in Nigeria for 2 years, where he attended King's College in Lagos until 1992, then returned to London to study at a private school, Christ's College in Blackheath.
When Oke won the European Junior Championships in Riga, Latvia with a jump of 16.57m in 1999, after only two years of taking to the sport, many followers of athletics rated the then 18-year-old as the likely successor to the reigning European champion then, Jonathan Edwards - a huge weight of expectation for a teenager who came into the sport almost by accident.
“I was asked by a friend of mine - Jordan - to come and help out the school at the Greenwich district championships,” Oke explains. “I said I think I can triple jump, and I duly won with 12.95m, I was 16 at the time. Then I was recruited by Mick Bond at my local club, Cambridge Harriers, and was assigned a sprints coach - Guy Spencer, my current coach. Within 4 months of being in the sport I came 2nd in the English Schools Championships and 3rd in the Nationals for my age group. Two years later in 1999, I became the European junior Champion and had jumped 16.57m. I currently still have the age 18 best, and the UK indoor record for a junior,” he added.
He reminisced what led to the invitation in the first place. “I remember being the fastest kid in my primary school, we used to always run from one side of the playground to the other. Then when I went to Nigeria, our game of choice was standing long jump and standing triple jump in our sandals, we would draw lines in the sand to mark out the current best distance. I would win most of the time. On my return to London, I became the Private Schools long jump and 400m champion at the under-13 age group. I only really started playing football at secondary school, but I was left-footed and very good at it.”
Encouraged by the progress made so early in his career, he decided to give the sport a go. “When I won the European Junior Championships in 1999, I was at university and training twice a week and living a typical student lifestyle. I figured if I can jump that far with minimal commitment to the sport, I am destined to jump the World record, he said.
But with Britain having a rich surplus of world class triple jumpers such as Edwards, Phillips Idowu and Onochie Achike, he found it hard to break into the team. He finished 5th at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, UK and 12th at the 2002 European Championships in Munich, Germany. In 2003, he came 4th at the European Cup in Florence, Italy.
His 16.65m from the 2002 Commonwealth Games was his personal best for many years. In the 2004–05 season, he switched coaches, moving from his club coach Guy Spencer to work with John Herbert, the coach of Phillips Idowu and Jade Johnson. But it wasn't until August 2007 that he finally set a new personal best, jumping 16.86m at Crystal Palace in London.
By 2008, many critics were now openly wondering if he would ever fulfil his potential. Moreover Christian Olsson, the Swede whom he beat as a junior in 1999, had gone on to become an European, World and Olympic champion as well as a regular 17+ jumper. Even with Edwards now retired, he still found himself behind Idowu (2009 World champion in Berlin and 2006 Commonwealth champion in Melbourne, Australia), Achike (World Junior champion in Lisbon 1994 and Commonwealth champion 1998 in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia) and new entrant Nathan Douglas (silver medallist at the 2006 European Championships in Athletics in Göteborg) in selection order by UK Athletics and was overlooked for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
After having been overlooked time and time again, at the age of 30, he made a decision to try his luck elsewhere, which gave his career a new lease of life. Oke changed allegiance to start competing for Nigeria, despite having previously competed for Britain, and served the mandatory notice to the IAAF. This raised eyebrows in some quarters and some critics ignorantly questioned the motivation of his change of 'nationality' late in his career.
“I am Nigerian, it was never a change of nationality - if I changed to represent Qatar, that would be a change of nationality,” he explained. “I always wanted to do all of the major events for Britain, and do them all for Nigeria as well. Due to injuries in the early part of my career, I was unable to achieve my goal of going to the World Championships or the Olympic Games. The real turning point came when I qualified for the World Championships in 2007 and the head of UKA did not select me on the team. I know there was a sinister agenda going on, so I decided that I would have to make the move away from that environment, to the country of my origin.”
Oke quickly settled into his new environment and unlike other athletes making such transition, having lived in Europe or America most of their lives, refused to moan and whine about the set-up on the ground and he would not also be dragged into endless comparison with what he was used to in the UK. “Obviously, UK Athletics is an organisation that's been around for many years,” he said. “They've got 20 different levels of funding, PR, the whole structure is very complicated. Yet, they are centralised. There is only one boss. He knows what's going on. There is no last minute changes so to speak etc. I mean, it's what it is, I am not going to judge what people do. People do their jobs, I am an athlete. My job as an athlete is to produce the goods on the day, to turn up for training and to try and qualify and represent the team. All the others will do the administration [work], they do their administration but I just do my job as an athlete.”
Oke represented Nigeria at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics, in Berlin, setting a personal best 16.87m. He said he was proud to wear the colours and happy to be back competing on the world stage, which justified his decision to change in the first place. “Athletics ultimately is individual. Essentially it does not really matter what team you compete for, it's about how good you are on the day compared to the rest of the world, just beating the best of the world - that's what athletes are subscribed to,” he explained. “Certainly from the UK, a lot of people understand why I moved and a lot of people are thinking about it, but I think a lot of people are scared of Africa. That's the mindset of a lot of people and that's a mindset that needs to change. Obviously, my skin is not European, my skin is African so I have done some time for Europe and it's time to come back home and do my thing for Africa.”
With his appearance on the global stage in Berlin and new status once again as one of the world's triple jump elite, Oke started 2010 on a high. In January at the Aviva International Match in Glasgow, representing the Commonwealth, Oke laid down the marker as he took triple jump victory in an indoor PB of 16.73m, which ranked him equal fifth on the world rankings as at 30 January. By February, appearing as a guest at the Aviva World Trials and UK Indoor Championships at the English Institute of Sports (EIS) in Sheffield, he won the men’s' triple jump event and improved his personal best in his 2nd attempt with a leap of 16.76m. Later that month, at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham, he improved his Indoor PB to 16.87m and only failed by eight centimetres to make the qualifying 'A' standard for the World Indoor Championships in Doha in March.
At the onset of the outdoor season in June, Oke produced a Man of the Match performance of 17.05m to win the men's triple jump at the first Premiership match of the 2010 British Athletics League, held at the Barnet Copthall Stadium in Hendon, North London.
He further improved on that to win the African Athletics Championships in Nairobi in July with a new personal best of 17.22m and was elated about being an African champion for the first time. “I am a continental champion which is a wonderful achievement, also it qualifies me for the World Championships next year automatically which is great,” said Oke. “My performance would have placed 4th at the European Championships and won the CAC Champs, but more importantly, it has put African triple jumping back on the global map. Tumelo Thagane has also jumped over 17m this year and there are two other guys Hugo Mamba-Schlick & Roger Haitengi, that are knocking on the door. Personally, I plan to go from strength to strength, and want to start jumping 17.50m plus on a regular basis, to start challenging on a global level.”
So, what are his interests outside of athletics and what are Tosin's aspirations, professionally? “Professionally, I work as a personal trainer and I am trained as an osteopath, so I plan to be involved in the fitness and health industry for the rest of my career. I eventually want to open a form of holistic training centre or organisation where I can pass on my knowledge and experience, combined with cutting edge research and world class therapists providing their services,” he explained. “Athletics wise, I want to jump very, very far. I know that when I do this I will win medals, as my mentality is all about planning to win, and executing the plan. I am very interested in reading, gaining knowledge on everything, especially African history and holistic lifestyles. Also I spend a lot of time working on my spiritual development as I think it is the most important thing about life as we know it. Other than that, I try to travel a lot to visually experience other cultures,” he added.
Oke says “winning the European Junior Championships in 1999, making the Commonwealth Games & European Championships teams in 2002, working with coach John Herbert from 2004-2008, jumping 17m for the first time in June this year and of course, winning the African Championships in Nairobi” are his career highlights so far.
He also enumerated both his short- and long-term goals and objectives on and off the track. “In the short term, I want to continue jumping 17m regularly and I want to jump well at the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. Long term, I want to win medals on the global level and I am making plans to make this a reality. Off the track, I am planning to move to a warmer country to help my training, as well as to exploit other work and financial avenues that will be available.”
As the reigning African triple jump champion, Tosin Oke will represent the continent at the IAAF Continental Cup in Split, Croatia early next month.
Triple Jump: 17.22 (2010)
Long Jump: 7.31 (2005)
Triple Jump: 16.89 (2010)
Long Jump: 2005: 7.31;
Triple Jump: 1998: 15.16; 1999: 16.57; 2000: 16.04; 2001: 16.15; 2002: 16.65; 2003: 16.59 (16.61i); 2004: 16.49; 2005: 16.26 (15.80i); 2006: 16.50; 2007: 16.86 (16.24i); 2008: 16.47 (16.26i); 2009: 16.87 (16.01i); 2010: 17.22 (16.89i);
1998 3rd UK Junior Championships (Bedford) 15.62w
1999 1st UK Junior Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 15.66
1999 1st UK Junior Championships (Birmingham) 15.70w
1999 1st European Junior Championships (Riga) 16.57
2001: 2nd UK Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 16:08
2002: 1st UK Indoor Championships (Cardiff) 15.91
2002: 1st UK U23 Championships (Bedford) 16.27
2002: 2nd UK Championships (Birmingham) 16.60
2002 5th Commonwealth Games (Manchester) 16.65
2002: 12th European Championships in Athletics (Munchen) NM (16.48 in qual.)
2003: 1st UK Indoor Championships (Birmingham) 16.61
2003 4th European Cup (Firenze) 16.45
2004: 2nd UK Championships (Manchester) 16.49
2006: 3rd UK Championships (Manchester) 16.33w
2007: 1st UK Championships (Manchester) 16.59
2008: 3rd UK Indoor Championships (Sheffield) 16.26
2009: 2nd UK Indoor Championships (Sheffield) 16. 01
2009 1st Nigeria Track & Field Championships (Abuja) 16.65
2009 7qB IAAF World Championships in Athletics (Berlin) 16.87
2010: 1st UK Indoor Championships (Sheffield) 16.76
2010 1st Nigeria Track & Field Championships (Calabar) 16.92
2010 1st African Athletics Championships (Nairobi) 17.22
Prepared by Yomi Omogbeja for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2010