Pair hope to live up to Whitgift's 'legacy'
WHEN one era ends it is often the way that another begins.
Just as discus thrower Lawrence Okoye and his former Whitgift rugby team-mates Marland Yarde and Elliott Daly begin to make their mark on the international stage, another youngster with "raw talent" at the south Croydon school begins to make his mark.
Stefan Amokwandoh, 14, has been borrowing a pair of spikes to compete in triple jump and does not belong to an athletics club.
In that respect his inclusion in Surrey's select 60 for this weekend's English Schools Athletics Championships in Gateshead is highly unusual: most will have been honed by clubs outside schools.
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He would even appear to have a strong chance of winning a medal, being ranked second in the UK at his age-group. Two Surrey colleagues are also ranked in the top 10.
Amokwandoh is one of two Whitgift pupils who will be at the championships, having benefited from the school's scientific approach to sport.
The other, Farren Morgan, an U19 400m runner, will have a chance of reaching the final in his event despite being at the younger end of the two-year age group.
He talks of having a "legacy" to live up to when considering the like of Okoye and Daly, whose England U20 side made the World Junior Championships final last weekend and who between them helped Whitgift win the Daily Mail Schools Rugby Cup for the first time, then retain it this year.
Sports teacher Daniel Webb might feel legacy to be a strong word, but outlines a structured "journey of sport" that youngsters at the school can follow, which will ground them to carry on when they leave.
There is certainly a conveyor belt of talent, due in no small part to the facilities available at the multi-million pound business that is Whitgift School.
"It is about encouraging young athletes to give them an opportunity to succeed," he said.
"Jason Roy was a really good rugby player as well," he says of the Surrey cricketer. Roy's Surrey colleague Tom Lancefield could have played other sports than cricket, sprint hurdler Matthew Walcott continues to make his mark in athletics, while Scotland's U20 rugby player Jamie Stephenson was vice-captain of the school's team two years ago.
While providing a foundation that could mean youngsters can fit into a number of sports, they will also encourage individuals to follow their own specific paths.
Morgan, from Charlton, only joined the school in January, switching to the school's BTEC national diploma in sports and exercise science, whereas people doing such courses at his old school were expected to play team sports, including rugby.
"I think it suits me really well," said Morgan, whose brief experience of rugby left him with concussion. "At this school the level of sports is really high. It rubs off on you."
Whitgift have fitness coaches, physiotherapists, a sports psychologist and as Webb says, "If you need something it will be supplied."
Now Morgan is part of a Surrey athletics team that, before his switch from Kent, has won the English Schools Championships two years in a row.
A silver medallist as an U15 at English Schools, he is one of the few athletes to have happy memories of Gateshead, which is notoriously windy, and is looking forward to his return.
"I ran 48.44 seconds and was fourth last year – 48.8 was fifth place, so it was quite a tight race," he said of the U17 final in Birmingham. The event was won by Josh Street, of St Joseph's School, Croydon, and now his Surrey team-mate.
They both went to Loughborough a few weeks ago for trials for Great Britain's U20 relay team. They know each other enough for a sense of rivalry, Street having risen above Morgan in the past few years in the age-group rankings.
"This year [at English Schools] hopefully I can run a season's best and I'd be pleased with anything more," said Morgan, who also runs 200m but has competed in one 800m a year, at the behest of his Bexley AC coach Chris Harris.
"My coach made it part of the training. I want to get sub two minutes. It's one of the barriers everyone has to break."
Amokwandoh, it might be said, is breaking moulds as well as barriers. Few would turn down a junior contract with a professional football club – in his case Charlton – to explore other sports.
"He has only been doing triple jump a year," said Webb. "He is very raw. He loves football, he loves rugby and will even turn out for third team hockey.
"He's a junior prefect and a very intelligent boy, in the Lawrence Okoye mould," said Webb.
Okoye has deferred studying law at Oxford to concentrate on discus, something that could take him to the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Webb added: "We looked at Stefan last year and thought he could be good at triple jump."
It is from his age that the likes of Amokwandoh will be steered towards clubs outside the school for help.
Mike Fleet, of Croydon Harriers, goes in to help give coaching advice and Webb said: "Mike is interested to take him under his wing, which would be very beneficial."
Joining a club to hone his skills further is surely only a matter of paperwork.