Exclusive: Naomi Ogbeta on discovering triple jump, charity comedy and girls in sport


Whether with laughs or cheers, Naomi Ogbeta always has a crowd in the palm of her hands.

Justly dubbed as the future of British triple-jumping, the Trafford athlete has made a name for herself in sandpits around the world and comedy clubs across the UK. You only need to watch one of her YouTube videos to get a sense of the vibrancy and positivity that she applies to her career both on and off the track. Pressure, it would seem, is just another obstacle that Ogbeta flies over.

Ogbeta is currently preparing for the European Athletics U23 Championships in Sweden, having already graced the continental stage in Glasgow earlier this year. Joining a British team that includes Amber Anning and Morgan Lake, the 21-year-old will be advancing an athletes career that actually found its feet in the world of sprinting.

Sitting down with GiveMeSport, Ogbeta walked us through a journey that went from 200-metre disappointment to a perchance switch to triple jump that would change her life forever. The Brit explained with great joviality: "I went to English Schools and came 26th out of 27 in the 200 metres and I was crying, as you would if came 26th!

"I was like: 'I don't know if I want to do this, I like being the best, I'm not being the best at this event and I don't know how I'm going to be the best at this event.' My coach asked: 'what events do you want to do?' So I said: '200m,' and then my dad said: 'Oh and she wants to do triple jump!' and I was like: 'Woah! Where did this come from?'

Focusing on triple jump

"I wasn't too keen on it, because I didn't know how to do it, but I was doing the running, getting faster and then on Saturdays I was just doing jump sessions. I remember I did my first competition at triple jump and I jumped 11.09m, which put me in the top five in the UK for my age group and I was like: 'Wow, I've gone from being 100th to 5th!'

"Then, the following week, I jumped 11.90m and that not only put me second in the UK for my age, but it also put me fifth all-time for my age group. So, I was like: 'Ok, I think I should stick with this one."

The progress that Ogbeta made in the event was as threefold as the technique in question. However, as is the case with many athletes, making a living from track and field is far from easy and we know of few multitaskers in the sport that compare to Ogbeta. Aside from her YouTube vlogging, media influencing and mentoring, her passion lies very much in the world of comedy.

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Comedy and charity

Ogbeta - who specialises in improv - has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and regularly helps out with charity events in her native Manchester. "There's a huge amount of homeless people on the streets and you see it everyday," she described to us. "It's heartbreaking to be honest. We work with a charity called Mustard Tree and it's a Christian homeless charity.

"We're bringing laughs to people which is great and we don't charge for our shows, but at the end they can just donate and give back to the charity. It's just nice to know that we're doing something that we enjoy, but it's also going to a better cause. Every time we do a show, we always donate to charity, so it's about giving back."

It's a brilliant show of philanthropy that marries perfectly to Ogbeta's own religious beliefs and faith plays a massive role when competition time arrives. Whether it's a calming influence when everyone is watching her jump or dealing with the stress of coming back from injury, her Christian beliefs are at the heart of Ogbeta's philosophy through life.


"I'm not defined by my sport"

Jumpers, in particular, are often seen using their own physical routines before their run-up in order to call upon muscle memory. You only need to look at Greg Rutherford leaning back and twitching his arm during the 2012 Olympics, for example. As far as Ogbeta is concerned, though, having a close relationship with God is what helps to transcend that competition pressure.

Speaking at her home track in Trafford, the British champion explained: "I'm a Christian. So, I go to church on Sundays but more importantly, I have my own individual relationship with God. I always say to my friends that competitions are when I'm closest to God, I feel like I literally can't do this on my own and I need extra help.

"I think my faith is something that has always helped me, especially when things have gone badly, like with injuries. It's just knowing that I'm not defined by my sport, it's God that defines me at the end of the day. He's always got me through difficult times and I think that's why I'm quite a positive person, because I just have that joy inside him."

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Getting more girls into sport

Not only is Ogbeta a fine example as a strong young athlete and Christian, but her attitude also makes her the perfect role model to upcoming sportswomen. The European finalist believes that British schools aren't curating the optimal environment to get enough young females into sport and is counting her lucky stars that she got the right opportunity in athletics.

The retrograde mindset of dropping sports into male and female categories is - in Ogbeta's view - at the heart of the problem. The Manchester-based athlete opined: "I think maybe they just haven't found the sport for them! With me - believe it or not - I'm terrible at every other sport apart from literally jumping or maybe sprinting.

"I have no hand-eye coordination, I was bad at netball and I was bad at basketball, I'm six-foot tall but I literally can't do it. So in school, some times I would be like: 'This is boring, I'm not enjoying it' because I wasn't doing a sport that I was actually interested in. But then as soon as it was the summer and we were doing athletics, I was suddenly like: 'Oh this is perfect!' 

"So if schools let girls experiment with sport, try different ones, bring new ones in and maybe that could get more people involved. Also, allowing girls to do 'boys' sports because sometimes the boys are allowed play football, but the girls had to play netball. 


An inspiring athlete

"I think it's good for them to mix things up and allow them to try new things, but for me the girls were really competitive and we all loved the sport. I don't know what I would have been like if I went to a school were the girls didn't like sport. Maybe it would have been embarrassing to be the only one."

Ogbeta was lucky to start her sporting career in a group of young women passionate about physical activity and now stands alone as Britain's undisputed triple-jumping queen. To achieve what she has at the age of 21 is what most athletes would dream of in two decades, but to define Ogbeta by her performance on the runway alone would be a complete injustice.

In many respects, the fact that athletics allows even top performers like Ogbeta to pursue other career and habitual avenues, can act as both a positive and a negative. However, the country can stand proud to have a multi-British champion who - outside from challenging in Europe - has crowds of comedy goers and YouTube viewers beaming with the same smile she wears herself.

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