World under-20 sprint champion almost became a rugby player
Rugby league’s loss is athletics’ gain. In 2013, just a year after he’d forgone football for the track, Jona Efoloko was invited to train with the Salford Reds scholarship group in Greater Manchester.
“I started to think about rugby league very seriously,” says the Sale Harriers Manchester athlete, who won the world under-20 200m title last month in Tampere.
“I enjoyed it a lot and loved going down to train with the Reds. I’ve always like team sports – I played football but we lost every game – and so I guess that side of the sport appealed to me. But I realised I preferred athletics more.”
Fast forward five years and 18-year-old Efoloko is the world junior champion after winning a fiercely contested final where his GB team-mate Charlie Dobson snatched silver.
“My experience in Tampere was amazing,” adds Efoloko. “Being around the best teenagers in the world was an incredible experience and Finland was a fascinating country to be in.
“I was very confident going into the championships. I had the best tapering ever in preparation for the championships and I was running quickly and consistently. I knew if I put it all together when it mattered most I could come out victorious.”
Sixth former Efoloko bagged a PB of 20.48 in the final in Tampere – just weeks after sitting A-levels in business, sport and sociology.
“It’s been quite challenging because you’d have homework due and you’d be too tired to do it straight after training,” he explains. “So I’d usually try to stay up late to complete the homework.
“Also, A-level exams take place around the same time as the important competitions, so I had to ensure I’d done all my revision early. I didn’t want to get to the business end of the athletics season only to realise I hadn’t revised enough. I didn’t want to miss any training or races with the worlds coming up.”
Efoloko is confident he struck the right balance in a brave bid to pass his exams and get past his sprint rivals. “I wasn’t really stressed or worried about finding the balance,” he added. “I started early and did the school work little by little. I think it worked!”
Supporting Efoloko in his dual career dream is the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS). The Sport England-backed programme enables sportsmen and women to combine a full-time education with elite sport and encourages England’s rising stars to embrace a dual career approach.
“The TASS support was a huge help during my time at Loreto College in Manchester,” added Efoloko. “The bursary they provided allowed me to pay for my training and races without having to ask my parents or siblings. They’ve done so much for me already and TASS helped me to support myself for the first time.”
Despite this summer’s sprint success, education remains key to Efoloko as he plots the future. He’s a man with a plan – and a plan B.
“From a young age my parents have drilled into me that education is very important if you want to be successful in the future,” he added. “As I’ve got older I’ve understood that more and more – I can really see the importance of education.
“You just never know with sport. It’s a tough industry and only a few make it so having a plan B – based on education – is important. It means that even if sport doesn’t go your way then you don’t stop achieving. It’s important for me to have targets on and off the track. I’m striving for greater success on two fronts.”