Interview with Sam Trigg

The American Collegiate system has long been one option as a training ground for British Triple Jumpers, from Keith Connor in the early 1980s to a growing host of promising and talented jumpers today. One member of the current crop of British athletes plying their trade stateside is former British Universities Indoor Champion, National U23 Champion and British Indoor bronze medallist Sam Trigg, who attends the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. recently spoke to Sam, who improved his PB out to 15.87m earlier this month, about what attracted him to America and the differences he has found in their approach to Triple Jump training and competition.

iTJ: How did you first get into athletics and when did you realise you had a talent for the Triple Jump?

ST: From a very young age I loved watching athletics on the TV – you can’t beat the thrill of a close race or a last attempt medal steal! I also wanted to play football for England (as most kids used to, I imagine a lot are seeking a move to Iceland now!) and that took up most of my childhood – every day at school and then after school with my brother until tea time!

Throughout my time at secondary school I was one of the shortest and skinniest kids in my year – easily out-muscled on the ball and easily beaten in a race! My school was a huge state school (Ivybridge Community College) which encouraged sport and had a breadth of talent in all areas. In athletics, we even held a qualifying day before the official athletics sports day for which I could never get in the required top 8 in any of the popular events. This is where I found the Triple Jump! Around 5 or 6 kids would dare to give the Triple Jump a go so I was always able to qualify for the official sports day! Football still occupied my time year-round, but once a year I would give the Triple Jump a go.

Eventually in years 9, 10 & 11, one of my good friends, Stuart Tucker, and I developed quite a rivalry in Triple Jump – taking it in turns to win the sports day. Around this time football became less fun as the team I grew up playing with fell apart with about 5 members, including myself, remaining and a load of new players signing up who hadn’t really played before! This wasn’t an issue for me as I simply loved the game – win or lose – but I started getting less and less game time as newer members became friendlier with the new manager! I think my Dad saw my frustration and at one away game, he disappeared at half time to look around some shops. After the game he gave me a book that he had found at half time – A Time to Jump, a biography on Jonathan Edwards!

That summer I read the book and decided to give the Triple Jump a proper go! Stuart Tucker and I trained a couple of evenings a week at the Erme Valley Harriers Athletics Club, who have always been fantastic to me. Paul Batten was training the older kids in sprints, so we joined in with him whilst practising jumping on our own and with help from Keith Reed – the Head Coach at Erme Valley.

During my first year of 6th form, just before my 17th birthday, I jumped a new PB of 11.64m to put me 254th in the U17 age group and I was thrilled! This didn’t even register on overall Power of 10 rankings that year, which included the top 700 due to a cut-off at 11.80m. I then had my target – to make the cut-off next year! Power of 10 has been a huge motivator throughout my career so far, as I am a very mathematical thinker. “If I improve by this much, I’ll be ranked this much higher” – I became obsessed with the numbers! As I started 6th form that same year, Paul Batten told me that one of his friends, Peter Sneary, was interested in coaching Triple Jump, so I leaped at the opportunity (pardon the pun). Pete was fantastic from the off-set and so inspiring. He told me that next year I would go to the English Schools’ Championships which had an entry standard of 13.80m. I’d just jumped a massive personal best of 11.64m and this guy is saying that I’ll improve by well over 2m with a year and a bit of training – he must be mad, I thought to myself! The belief that a coach has in his or her athletes is by far the most powerful fuel for achievement, in my opinion.

As I started on this quest to reach that standard I learnt more about the sport and decided I should probably try and get some muscles (note – I’m still trying today, as my current coach points out!). With the help of early-morning conditioning sessions with professional rugby player James Owen and Olympic weightlifting coaching from double Commonwealth gold medallist Michaela Breeze, who happened to be a P.E. teacher at my school, I was able to physically develop a little more, alongside Pete’s training sessions.

Half-way through my last year of school, aged 18, I jumped the standard and went to my first and only English Schools’ championships, which was absolutely amazing! I ended that year with a new personal best of 14.32m, just before my 19th birthday, and this put me 55th in the overall UK ranking, rather different to being outside the top 700 just two years before! It was here that I realised that I could potentially go to the British Championships one day, something I always wanted to achieve, and who knows, maybe compete for my country one day!

iTJ: Which Triple Jump Legends inspired you when you were young and which jumpers and coaches do you admire today?

ST: I always looked up to Jonathan Edwards and always will! My girlfriend claims that I have a second relationship with him, due to the amount of time I spend watching videos of his jumps! I also loved watching Phillips Idowu compete and today we’re lucky enough to see the current battle between Christian Taylor, Teddy Tamgho, Will Claye and Pedro Pichardo, who are inspiring a whole generation and bringing a much-needed increase in attention to the Triple Jump as an event!

Throughout my climb up the UK rankings I’ve always admired those battling it out at the top including Nathan Douglas, Tosin Oke, Julian Reid, Ben Williams, the London Reign squad (Nathan Fox, Kola Adedoyin, Nonso Okolo, and Daniel Lewis), and have been lucky enough to compete alongside them in the British Championships. Although you might expect these big names to look down on you and ignore you, it’s actually quite the opposite – they’re incredibly friendly and cheer you on during competition – some of them even know who I am! I’m also a huge fan of 1994 Commonwealth gold medallist Julian Golley, who holds the record for the number of British Championships appearances and has given me plenty of advice without hesitation – just one of the greats who still loves the sport!

Sam on the podium at the 2015 British Indoor Championships with Nathan Fox and Nonso Okolo

[Source: Marina Petrović]

In terms of coaches, I have endless admiration for all of them, at any level for any event! Most coaches coach for free and give up their time to help the athlete selflessly. I can’t thank Keith Reed, Kirk Salmon, Paul Batten, and especially Peter Sneary enough for getting me started down the right path – they all worked tirelessly for my benefit and for love of the sport. When I moved away from Devon to go to university, Peter Sneary put me in touch with his good friend Tom McNab who has coached the likes of legend Greg Rutherford, and has a fantastic technical awareness. I went to Tom occasionally for technical help, as well as getting help from Patrick O’Shea at Oxford, but I was largely designing my own training schedule at the time which essentially consisted of “what do I fancy doing today?”. It’s therefore not surprising that I failed to improve by much that year!

It was in my last competition of that year that the captain of the Oxford University Athletics Club, and Commonwealth Games finalist, Daniel Hooker, approached me and offered to become my lead Coach. Daniel is one of the youngest coaches around but has the knowledge and coaching talent of someone with many years of experience, and just absolutely loves the sport! Daniel took me from an average jumper ranked outside the top 40 in the UK to a BUCS gold medal, Oxford University record, U23 National Championships gold, and an indoor bronze medal at the British Championships. As I previously said, belief in athletes is the biggest influence a coach can have and my current set-up consists of two young, passionate, and extremely ambitious coaches – Daniel, and my US Collegiate coach Jade Ellis.

Sam and his coach, Daniel Hooker, at the 2016 British Championships

 [Source: Jess Trigg]

iTJ: What made you decide to attend university in America, and in particular the University of New Mexico?

ST: Most athletes get recruited to US universities out of secondary school but I wasn’t quite good enough at the time. Honestly, I’m glad that I wasn’t quite at the right standard after school as Oxford was the perfect place to develop into a good athlete – the ancient Varsity match against Cambridge is the most intense competition I have ever experienced, especially thanks to Matthew Houlden – one of the most talented all-round individuals I’ve ever met!

I never actually approached any US universities as I never thought I was good enough, and in April I was trying to decide between doing a Masters course in the UK and getting a job. It was then that I received a message from Austin Brobst, New Mexico’s jumps and sprints coach at the time, who asked if I was interested in studying in America! I was completely shocked and wasn’t sure what to do! I sat down with Daniel Hooker, who was very supportive about the whole thing and encouraged me to take the opportunity if I wanted the adventure, with the warning that training in the US system does not work for a lot of people. I didn’t want to disrupt the coaching relationship that Daniel and I had but it was also hard not to take the opportunity of a lifetime! Luckily, Daniel and my US coach, Jade Ellis, are extremely understanding of each other and don’t let their egos get in the way of my progress, which often happens with other coaches who want full control over their athletes with no interference. I’m just lucky to have had coaches who are in the sport for the athlete’s benefit. So, to cut a long story short, New Mexico found me and I couldn’t say no!

iTJ: What are the biggest differences you’ve found in the approach to training and competitions since you arrived in America?

ST: The US Collegiate system is extremely different for all sports in comparison to the UK. There is so much money in sport, hence the scholarships on offer, with college games and fixtures being shown on live television and universities almost seeing their athletes as athletes first, students second. Bizarrely, there is a massive fan base for college teams in sports like American football and basketball and you see everyone walking around in gear – much like you see kids wearing Manchester United or, better, Leicester City shirts in the UK. It’s like you’re competing for a professional club!

Within athletics, or “track and field” as they call it here, the key difference in competition is the level. My winning jump at BUCS would usually rank outside the top 50 in the US university rankings, and world leads often come from US Collegians. In the UK, university clubs are student run – I was Men’s Captain at Oxford and as a committee we would pick teams and organise competition travel and accommodation, all of which we’d have to personally pay for. UK college coaches are also largely volunteers and you have to pay to see a physio or get a massage from people external to the club. In stark comparison, New Mexico and other US colleges have a head coach, several events coaches, a weights coach, our own athletic trainer (physio), masseuse, nutritionist, psychologist, all of whom are on salaries. We also fly to competitions around the US and stay in hotels – all paid for. It is truly unbelievable! It’s funny to see all of the Europeans new to the team (myself included last year) simply shocked at the treatment we get – I think most of the American students take it for granted as that’s simply how it is over here!

The training is also completely different with more volume in general and especially in weight training. This is often a bad thing I think, as a lot of really good kids come from high school in the US or secondary school in the UK or elsewhere and get overworked. Luckily, as a graduate student, I had already developed a strong training base and so benefited from the increase in intensity!

Sam competing for the University of New Mexico

[Source: Mike Mulcahy]

iTJ: What do you miss most about Britain while living, studying and training in America?

ST: Food, family, and friends! Although we are renowned for having bland food, I do miss proper baked beans, digestive biscuits, fresh fruit and veg, and bread! I also, obviously, miss my family, but I Skype them all the time which helps, and some of my family and extended family have come to visit me out here, which has been great! I do also miss friends but keep in touch with a lot of them, including my coach Daniel, and a group of mates from Oxford even came out for a road trip which was an awesome experience. I also bizarrely miss the weather – New Mexico has over 300 days of sunshine a year which is perfect for training, but I do find myself missing rainy days!

iTJ: You’ve started the year in great form, improving your PB to 15.87m earlier this month. What do you put that improvement down to and what are your targets for the rest of the year and the rest of your career in the Triple Jump?

ST: It’s always hard moving to a completely new system which is why Daniel and I thought hard before just saying yes to going to New Mexico. Last year was certainly a learning experience but both Daniel and Jade pointed out holes in my technique that could lead to big improvements. I trained really hard through the long winter, focusing on every day instead of thinking about the season. This approach helped me to get everything I could out of every session, without pushing too hard – it’s important to train smarter, not necessarily harder. Unfortunately I didn’t have indoor eligibility for the indoor season which meant that I couldn’t compete for the University. This was actually a blessing in disguise as it meant I could have a short indoor season with a better build up to the outdoor season. The aim for the season is always to have fun and try my best, but it would be really nice to break that 16m barrier.

[Source: Shay Adefeso]

iTJ: From the mental preparation at the end of the runway to the moment you land into the pit, what are you focusing on during a competitive Triple Jump?

ST: It often depends on what we’ve been working on in training. Between jumps I like to mentally go through my runway approach and key points to think about in the phases of the jump. Once I step on the runway I like to take a few deep breaths to calm myself down or start a clap to get the crowd involved – it really depends on how I’m doing and the coach’s feedback throughout the competition. Once I’ve started running, I focus on hitting the main points of my run up, driving, getting tall, and then preparing to jump. After that, it’s honestly a bit of a blur!

iTJ: When you’re not training or competing what other interests and activities do you have?

ST: I’m a bit of a geek, so am always trying to do well in my studies, but outside of that I play the drums, watch football (I’ve been a big Leicester City fan all through my life which finally paid off last year), and am happiest when relaxing with friends and family and eating good food!

iTJ: What advice would you give to any aspiring Triple Jumpers to help them make the most of their potential?

ST: If you are having fun, just go for it! Do your best to surround yourself with people who believe in you and most importantly, believe in yourself.

Don’t get put off if you never win, or don’t improve for a while – if you enjoy it, keep trying hard and it will eventually pay off! However, it’s important to remember that there is such a thing as too much training, especially at a young age so work smarter, not harder!

iTJ: Is there anyone you’d like to acknowledge for their help in your Triple Jump career?

ST: A special thanks to Erme Valley Harriers as well as the University of Oxford, University of New Mexico, the Brixton Feoffee Trust, Vincent’s Club, and Achilles Club for their support! Also thanks to all of my friends and family for their unconditional love and support!

Thank you to Daniel Hooker for all of his help so far and for selflessly letting me chase the opportunity to go to the US, and for Jade Ellis and the UNM sprints and jumps squad for making it all worthwhile! Lastly, thanks to my girlfriend Marina for putting up with long training days, a sandy apartment, and endless athletics chat!

I would also like to say how brilliant the website is, and what a fantastic job you have done in raising the profile of the event! I wish I’d had this website to look at when I was developing as a young Triple Jumper!

Sam with his primary support crew – his parents – after he broke the 28 year old Oxford-Cambridge Varsity match record in 2015

[Source: Marina Petrović]

Sam Trigg Profile:

Date of Birth: 01/11/93
Club: Erme Valley/New Mexico University
Lead Coaches: Daniel Hooker/Jade Ellis
Personal Best: 15.74m/15.87i

Annual Progression:

2008: 11.00m
2010: 11.64m
2011: 13.06m 1st Devon Schools’ Championships

4th South West Schools’ Championships

2012: 14.32m 1st South West Schools’ Championships

1st Devon Schools’ Championships

5th English Schools’ Championships

2013: 14.56m 5th South of England Senior Championships

9th British Universities Indoor Championships

2014: 15.00m/15.20w 1st South of England Senior Championships

4th England Athletics U23 Championships

6th British Universities Championships

6th British Universities Indoor Championships

9th British Athletics UK Championships

2015: 15.74m 1st British Universities Indoor Championships

1st England Athletics U23 Championships

3rd British Indoor Championships

6th British Championships

2016: 15.62m/15.77w 1st Mountain West Conference Outdoor Championships

3rd Mountain West Conference Indoor Championships

10th British Championships

2017: 15.87m 1st New Mexico Classic


Written by iTripleJump

A Triple Jumper for over 35 years - from an over-hopping junior to a county-level senior - I still enjoy jumping in national and international Masters competitions in the event that has gripped me since my first hop, step and jump onto a springless PE mat. Waiting for that perfect jump. That one perfect jump ...

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