TOSIN OKE, Defending Commonwealth Games & African Triple Jump Champion, speaks EXCLUSIVELY to MAKING OF CHAMPIONS following yet another National Title at the Nigerian Trials in Calabar!
Tosin, Congratulations! You just won the National Championships with a jump of 17.21m – though the distance is not valid for record purposes as it was assisted by a 2.4m/s wind, it does equal the 3rd best jump of your career, and just short of your PB of 17.23m. How are you feeling about the distance and the win?
I can’t say I feel good; I feel more that since it’s the Commonwealth Games and African Championships year, it’s very important to be in top shape, so I’m getting into top shape.
The announcer said this was your seventh national title. Is that the accurate figure?
It’s five or six. Last year was very tricky. I had a few technical difficulties. The boards weren’t working last year and so I had a few problems. Even though I jumped the farthest, I didn’t win. This is my fifth title.
How will you rate your performance so far this season? Are you satisfied?
I tend to reflect on the season at the end and then make improvements for the future, so it’s too early to say. If I retain my Commonwealth title, it will be a success and if I retain my African title, it will be a huge success. Those are the markers for my season; I’m not really interested in Silver or Bronze. I’d like to get GOLD medals; that’s what I do all this work for and that’s how I will work out how good my season is.
As reigning Commonwealth and African champion, what are you looking forward to in Glasgow and Marrakech? Are you under any form of pressure?
I don’t suffer from any pressure to be honest. Obviously I do a lot of social work in the UK; I go to schools and try to inspire the young ones to be as good as they can be, so it will be nice to go there with four gold medals I think. That will be a nice thing but at the same time it is an important year for Nigeria and for me. At my age I just take every day as it comes and hope to do better each day, so we’ll see.
You’ve hit form at the right time. What do you feel about your chances of defending your Commonwealth Games title?
I’m not a prophet like many Nigerians so I can’t predict what’s going to happen; I’m not an evangelist or anything like that. I’m just going to keep training well and stay focused and I’m going to see what happens.
Quite a few men have gone over 17 metres this season but none really amongst the Commonwealth nation athletes. Surely that should be positive for your chances?
Well it could be a factor if you are a statistician, but I’m not a statistician so I’d rather not make assumptions. I just like to focus on myself and try and do as best as I can.
Which opponents are you watching out for at the Commonwealth Games?
I’m not watching out for anyone. This year I’m focused on myself solely and I think that’s the most important thing in Track and Field. When you start looking at others, you start assuming that they may do this or that and it distracts you from your own game, so I’m focused on myself.
Earlier this season at another meet in Morocco you beat some of the big names in the sport, including Phillips Idowu. Did you consider it a major achievement or do you just feel that this is your time to shine and you’re going to make the most of it?
I don’t know if this is my time to shine so I have no idea since I’m not a prophet like a lot of my Nigerian brothers and sisters. The church of Tosin Oke has no members. We turn up to the track and jump as far as we can jump and if we win, we win. This year I have a lot to prove that I can get back to where I’m supposed to be. I’m just trying to fulfill that promise.
Great! Let’s do a quick flashback. Since you switched over to Team Nigeria from Team GB, you’ve won GOLD medals at everything; African Championships twice, All-African Games and Commonwealth Games. What led to your decision about switching from Great Britain to Nigeria in the first place?
Well it’s in the past; I don’t really care about it. I always look forward and I’m learning to look back in my career when I retire, so you will have to ask me that question after Rio and then maybe we can talk about it then. In the meantime what I focus on is Nigeria; doing my country proud and doing myself proud.
Word has it that you fell out with Team GB selectors after they controversially left you out of their 2007 World Championship team. With all the GOLD medals you’ve won for Team Nigeria since then, do you feel vindicated by all your success during your time in Nigeria’s colours?
I don’t really care; it’s irrelevant. The past is irrelevant now; what matters is the future and trying to continue to win medals in the future. That’s my focus. It makes no difference now.
Final question for you. You mentioned the Olympic Games in Rio. You are 33 now so you must be coming to the twilight of your career. Is the Olympic Games the last big event for Tosin Oke?
Well if you think about it I’m 33 but my Nigerian age must be about 23 so that means I’ve got a lot of time, so I’ll be here for another 15 years I think! But on a serious note I definitely want to do another Olympic Games for Nigeria but we will see. I take it year by year so we will see.
Fantastic! After finishing seventh in the final the last time around at the London Olympics, we hope you can get a medal in Rio!
Tosin Oke will go in Group A of the Men’s Triple Jump Qualifying Round on Friday (Aug 1st) from 8.55pm, with Nigeria No. 2 Olu Olamigoke in Group B.
If they are amongst the Top 12 jumpers in qualifying, they will progress to the Final, at 7.10pm on Saturday (Aug 2nd) – DON’T MISS IT!