Up-and-coming British athlete faces Shara Proctor and Katarina Johnson-Thompson in Birmingham on Sunday
When Lorraine Ugen started her competition with a personal best at the Doha Diamond League, it’s unlikely that she knew what would lie ahead in the upcoming rounds or the rest of the season. Yet in the space of an hour, the talented long-jumper’s performance would ensure that any athletics fan from the UK that didn’t already know her name soon did.
Now as she heads to the Sainsbury’s British Championships in Birmingham this weekend to battle it out with UK record-holder Shara Proctor and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, the 23-year-old has her eyes set on making a second consecutive world championship team in Beijing, where she is targeting a place in the final.
Her optimism is well placed given both her position as the sixth best jumper in the world this year and her form in this season’s Diamond League, in which she placed in the top four in both Doha and Eugene. Also her performance in Qatar was particularly impressive.
Coming into that competition, the 2013 NCAA champion was ranked as the British No.10 all-time, but that was to change by the end of the evening.
After her first leap of 6.79m moved her up one place in the UK rankings to equal ninth with Kelly Sotherton, she soon elevated herself much higher. In the fourth round, Ugen soared out to 6.92m to improve her PB by a further 13cm and climb to No.3 all-time.
Momentarily things got even better, as in the next round of competition it was announced that she had leapt out to a British record distance of 7.10m. Sadly for the fans and Ugen their delirium would soon be deflated as officials confirmed that the leap had been re-measured and she had in fact only leapt 6.88m.
Nonetheless she had still performed brilliantly, especially given that only days earlier she had been donning a gown and mortarboard for her university graduation at Texas Christian University (TCU).
Speaking to AW a few weeks later at the Prefontaine Classic, Ugen described her memories of that jump. “I just remember I ran off screaming and then after I came back they were like ‘oh it’s been re-measured’ so I was like ‘Oh…okay’,” she said.
Despite this, her belief that breaking the seven-metre barrier is well within her reach remains. “Hopefully, that’s the plan,” she said. “I just need to fix a couple of things, especially my landing and hopefully it will come out at some point.”
Such a big breakthrough in Ugen’s career, as mentioned coincided with the end of her academic studies. Having now received a degree, majoring in film, TV and digital media with a sociology minor, the athlete can fully concentrate on becoming a professional. After spending her final year at college training as a pro athlete due to her NCAA ineligibility, she is already seeing the benefits. It’s to that change, plus an avoidance of injuries, that she attributes the improvements in 2015
“This is my first season as a professional,” she said, “I’m not competing in school anymore so I had enough time to focus on stuff. I know what the goal is. I’m trying to go to the world championships, so it’s more time to focus and think as a professional rather than as a student.”
Now her education has finished, some big decisions on a future training location lie ahead. For the time being, Ugen will continue to work with her college coach Shawn Jackson, in Texas, training five times a week; however in the long term she is not sure what will happen: “I haven’t decided yet, it depends on how this summer goes!” she says.
It would be understandable if she took a while to leave her college life behind given the amount of success it has brought. After all, few British athletes who go Stateside are able to call themselves a double NCAA champion, nor can they credit jumping 6.77m to win the NCAA outdoor title as a reason for qualifying for a world championships, as she did in 2013.
So what advice would she give to any Brits wanting to emulate her experience in America? “If you are a British athlete that wants to come out to the US you need to do your research, don’t just go to any school,” she says. “Before I came to my school I knew they had good long jumpers; they had a girl that was jumping far and her personal best had improved a lot since she came to the school.
“Some British athletes don’t have a good experience because they just want to go to the States and they just go anywhere and when they get there they realise, ‘oh this is not for my event.”
» The women’s long jump at the Sainsbury’s British Championships starts at just after 4:20pm on Sunday July 5. See AW’s website and social media for news and full coverage in the July 9 issue of the magazine