Okoye ready to take on the world
LAWRENCE Okoye says that how he does at the World U20s championships in July will tell him whether his future lies more in athletics than rugby.
A national U18 Daily Mail Schools Rugby Cup winner with Whitgift School, the 6ft 4in 19-stone winger seems to be coming to the conclusion that everybody else wants to make for him.
Even if he is not convinced that he could become the next Daley Thompson in decathlon, the young man known by the simple sobriquet 'gentle giant' is still undecided about his future.
However, since finishing fourth at the English Schools Championships last summer he has sought the help of, as Okoye puts it, Britain's best discus coach John Hillier.
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Last Saturday, Okoye set a benchmark that is sure to stand for years, smashing the Surrey Schools Championships record by the best part of nine metres, throwing 58.30.
"It's the best in the UK this year," he said afterwards. "I've thrown bigger in training, but it's good to get one out of the way in competition."
The British trials take place next Sunday in Bedford for the World U20s team to go to Canada in July and after results from county schools contests across the country were collated this week, Okoye's throw meant he was rated number one in the age-group nationally, and fifth overall. The switch to Hillier has not just aided him technically, but helped him see what he is up against.
"I'm training with some of the best athletes in the country," he said, rattling off names such as Zane Duquemin, a rival for the national schools title, who has thrown 56.48.
Athletics, now the rugby season has finished, is "definitely, 100 per cent" his focus right now – apart from three more A-level exams.
"In the last couple of weeks I've worked really hard with John," he said.
His personal best improved by nearly eight metres, partly because he throws in very few competitions, underlining the huge potential many see.
"I've been throwing pretty well and it's nice to have the record. Hopefully it's a sign of things to come," he said.
Was that a hint towards athletics? "I've not decided," he said. "If I do really well at the World U20s that might help me to make a decision.
"After the summer I will have a better idea. If I get to the worlds I'll see what happens."
Having found coach Hillier, he will not forget the part Croydon has played in his development, with discus coach Ian Briggs glad to have played a part in guiding him over five school years.
"He's taken me a long way," said Okoye of Briggs, a Redhill and Surrey Beagles member for 50 years who helps many throwers at Croydon Arena.
Last year Briggs predicted that Okoye and Croydon Harrier Kariym Irving would both finish in the top six at English Schools. They were fourth and sixth. This year, Briggs predicts first and "don't know" when the town's pair go head-to-head in Birmingham on July 9.
Irving, second at Surrey Schools, said he was "happy" with his 45.91 throw, because it bettered the qualifying mark already set by fellow Surrey athlete Ryan Barrett and should secure his selection.
"Training has been tight, especially with me doing decathlon as well," said the John Fisher pupil, who has also had A-levels to fit in. "I've done a quarter of the sessions compared to last year. I've not been able to fit in as much as I'd wanted to do."
Unsure of his aims for the year, he has the South of England decathlon tournament in his sights at Ashford in a week's time, when his A-levels will be over.
"After my exams I will have more accurate goals," he said. "I just want to do the best I can and enjoy athletics as I used to."
He said that his support network of family, club and school "couldn't be better", adding that John Fisher, where he will pursue a gap year next year in the languages department, has allowed him not to be involved with rugby that the teaching role would normally involve, "so I can focus on athletics".