This interview of Keturah Orji, was done by Stuart Weir. This is part one of the two piece interview by Stuart Weir, one of the pieces that we will publish this week.
11 Questions for Keturah Orji
In part one of a two part interview, Keturah Orji talks about how she got into track and field, college and her career so far
1. How did you get into Track and Field?
Originally I was doing gymnastics until my freshman year of high school. I was aware that I was fast because I used to race boys. When I quit gymnastics, I didn’t want to stop doing sport altogether. I wanted to be involved in something and decided to try track. Originally I was going to be a sprinter and joined the team to sprint, but my coach put me into some jumps and I ended up being good at jumping.
2. Why Triple Jump?
In my freshman year I tried long jump and that went really well, so I asked coach if I could try triple jump but she was hesitant because I was already doing high jump and sprinting as well, so she didn’t want to add anything on to my plate. But I kept asking her to let me try triple jump – that was my sophomore year – and I ended up very good at it. So that was great.
3. In 2013 you won medals in long jump and triple jump at World Youths. Did that convince you that you could have a career in Track and Field?
Yes, 2013 was definitely my breakout year just in terms of improving so much from the previous year. I had never heard of World Youths or even USAs because I just did local meets. But once I won New Balance nationals, people said I should try out for the World Youths. They said I could probably make the team and it would be a good experience. Again, my coach was hesitant because it meant me competing beyond the end of the normal season. I was nervous about it, but decided to go to USAs and I ended up qualifying. The competition there was so high that it pushed me way harder than I’d ever been pushed. And that brought me to 13.69, which was my high school PR. I think just being there and being around the best athletes pushed me to a level I’d never been to.
4. Aged 19, you finished fourth (14.14) in the 2016 World Indoors. How was that experience?
That was a really nervous experience for me because it was my first professional world meet. I had never competed against older athletes. Internationally, I’d just been to World Youths. So even being there was a big deal for me. Finishing fourth was a bad because I was so close to getting a medal but equally I had a PR and I had proved myself against the best athletes in the world. It was a good and bad experience but it was a learning experience and it was good for me. I left happy overall because if I PR, I’m usually pretty happy with my performance.
5. Later that year your finished fourth in the Olympics with14.71 [Bronze was 14.74]. How was Rio?
Rio was even more nerve wracking for me because I didn’t think I was even capable of making the Olympic team. As I was in college, I wasn’t even thinking about the Olympics. I thought that was something that came after college. So to make the team and find myself competing against athletes I’ve always looked up to or watched on TV, was another hard thing to grasp. I barely made the final – that was a miracle in itself. I jumped 14.04 for 12th and last qualifying place. So in the final, I decided that I have to get my jump out early – I thought that in the prelim I had been hesitant and nervous – so in the final I wasn’t going to mess around. I finished fourth, broke the American record at the age of 20 in the Olympics for which I didn’t even think I could qualify a year ago. I mean the previous year I hadn’t done well at USAs and didn’t have the Olympic standard,so wit all jumped on me at once.
6. Give me one college career highlight.
That is hard. One of my highlights would be winning the long jump in my senior year. Because most people saw me as just a triple jumper, winning the long jump title was a big deal. Particularly as in previous years I’ve seen my teammates Kate Hall and Chanice Porter winning long jumps (2016 and 2017). I was an all American but not winning, so to be able to win it that year was a big deal for me. Also in my sophomore year, breaking the American record at NCAAs was a really big deal for me because I didn’t think it was possible. Those are things that you set as goals but you think they’ll come much later down the road. So when it happened, it was “Whao I didn’t think I could do that now”.
7. You won The Bowerman in 2018 – unusual for a triple jumper to win such a prestigious award perhaps?
Yes, I do think that is true. It meant a lot to me especially as I had been a finalist three times. Because I had been so close previously, I think it made it better when I won it third time. I’ve lost before and then I finally won it. When I think of athletes who have won the Bowerman, and what they been able to accomplish and to be considered the same as those athletes and when you think how big the NCAA is, how many athletes there are and what they have accomplished, to win is such an honor.
8. How do you rate being US Champion 4 years in a row?
Yes, that was a great achievement. It is kind of funny because at the time you don’t realize how big these things are, until you look back and you realize what you’ve done. I think in the moment, when I was in college, I didn’t think that winning all these titles was such a big deal. Looking back and realizing that I’m an eight-time NCAA champion or a four time USA champion – it’s crazy to grasp or think about what those words mean. I think in the moment you tend to take it for granted, saying you’ve won and move on. But looking back it isn’t something that you just do and move on.
9. In 2017 you qualified for the worlds in London but had to withdraw. Was that hard?
The injury wasn’t that serious but I knew that that if I continued my season it could get worse and worse, so my coach, my trainer and I decided it would be best if I sat it out and came back stronger in 2018. I ended up working out and everything got better and I had a good 2018. It was a kind of disappointing, in the moment, when I had just won USAs and I realized I wasn’t going to be able to go for the World Championships in London and be part of the US team. I felt I had earned it but I couldn’t do it, because my body wasn’t ready to do it. I think I learned from that the importance of resting when you have an injury. Before that I probably thought I was invincible but afterwards I realized that working smart was as important as working hard all the time.
10. In the 2018 World Indoors you came 5th with 14:31, Were you happy with that?
That was a hard competition for me because I had just finished a college competition, flew to Birmingham and then immediately flew back for NCAAs. I wanted to do Birmingham because I think I had the world lead at that time going into the competition and was therefore a favorite to win a medal. While the travel and schedule were not favorable to me, I thought it was worth going to give it a shot. I think I could’ve done better but I was not unhappy with my performance particularly when you think of the circumstances. Given that I’d been flying back and forward from America what I did was pretty good. Again it was another learning experience about travel and competition and how the travel affects you.
11. In 2019 you were seventh in the Worlds in Doha (14.46). What is your assessment?
I was disappointed. I think of all the world meets I had been to, Doha is the one I was most disappointed with. Looking back at my year and how well I had been jumping, everything seemed to be building up to Doha and then when I got there it didn’t go well at all. So I was very disappointed. I think if you look at my average jump throughout the year and at Diamond Leagues, it was better than what I did at worlds.
I was pleased that I qualified for the final with my first jump because in Rio I had made the final only in last place. So I did great in the qualification round but in the final I just couldn’t get my jumps together. I had two fouls in the final. I couldn’t get my run-up together; I just wasn’t on it. I was very disappointed about that
Interview 14 May 2020