Interview with Jonathan Ilori

The line-up for the Men’s Triple Jump at next Monday’s BIGish Jumps & Throws Festival at Bedford features no less than nine athletes who have jumped over 16 metres. One of those nine athletes is Jonathan Ilori, who we caught up with before the event to talk about his Triple Jump career so far and, having studied and trained at an American University himself, how he’s now helping other athletes find places within the American collegiate system through RightTrack Sports Consultancy, the company he founded on his return to the UK.

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

JI: My older brother tried to teach me how to Triple Jump when I was 9 years old. It was in our living room, and I couldn’t grasp the sequence, so after many failed attempts we tabled the idea!

Fast-forward to Year 7 at the Royal Hospital School, I was selected to compete in the Triple Jump for the school team, for the one reason that my brother had been successful in the event! I wasn’t very good (by the end of the summer term my PB was 8.46m), but for some reason I enjoyed the event.

It was in Year 8 however that we started to see a glimpse of potential. I was unbeaten on the Year 8 independent schools’ circuit in the East of England, on average jumping 10.50m – not a crazy distance but still 2 metres further than the year before. At an English Schools’ Cup event, I hit 11.30m and this was a big turning point for me. I qualified for the East Area Prep Schools’ Championships, and won the event with a distance of 10.80m. I achieved qualification for the National Prep Schools’ Championships, and finished 2nd here with 10.90m to James Lelliot. If you look on my Power of 10 profile, massive improvement followed in the years after.

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

JI: I was a big Phillips Idowu fan! I loved watching him compete on TV! When Teddy Tamgho came on the scene he became my favourite jumper. So much confidence, swagger and entertainment. The rivalry between him and Phillips was great to see! Today, I am still a big Tamgho fan, and also a fan of Christian Taylor. I think he’s a great ambassador for Athletics and epitomizes what a professional sportsman should look like. I was struggling with my run-up years back, and Christian gave me some words of support in how to figure it out. Just a great guy! I had the opportunity to compete against Taylor, Tamgho, Will Claye and Yoann Rapinier in 2015 – a really cool experience!

iTJ: What do you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?

JI: Missouri Relays, 11th May 2014. First time over 16 metres. That week our coach had told us we were going from 10 steps. I wasn’t too excited because I was never great at short approach jumping. During the warm-up, I felt a bit heavy. We had lifted the day before and done some sprints. My good friend, Shola Olojo, had text me that morning saying I should aim for 15.40m. So that was my target – hit 15.40m. First round – 15.46m. Seemingly job done. I was happy, but something told me there was more to come. It was a home meet, great crowd and perfect weather. Round two was over 15.70m. Excitement started to build. Round three – 16.10m! I didn’t even stay to hear what the distance was, I just heard “sixteen” and ran off screaming down the home straight. The jump was wind-assisted but that didn’t bother me. I came in from 10 steps, 7 shorter than my full approach. In September 2013 I had a knee surgery. The surgeon who had operated on me came to watch the meet. It was great to see him and just a huge celebration for everyone who had helped me through the injury. To this day, that competition fuels the belief in my ceiling for potential in the Triple Jump.

iTJ: What are competitive aims for 2017 and over the next few years in the Triple Jump?

JI: The aim for 2017, like every Triple Jumper is 16.80m (World Championships qualifying standard). That’s what I train for and that’s where my sights are. Over the next few years, I want to find consistency in technique and performance. After graduating college, I made the decision to return to the UK and train with John Shepherd. I’d had a few phone conversations with professional coaches in the US, but John’s knowledge of jumping and his meticulous approach to training drew me in. I’d already done some work with him the summer before returning, and I wanted to be based in London, so it was an easy decision.

iTJ: You’ve recently returned from warm weather training in Portugal with John Shepherd’s training group. How has John changed your approach to Triple Jumping over the past couple of years and how valuable do you think warm weather training camps are in the preparation for the competitive season?

JI: John has presented me with a different outlook on training for the Triple Jump. We work hard, but tend to adopt a “less is more” approach. Naturally I’m a workhorse – I used to run the 4×400 for Missouri in the US! But John has a more specific approach to training for the jumps. If the ground contacts are slowing down, there’s no need to keep going just to get the reps in. We have a big focus on speed, and have moved away from me getting comfortable with the short approach. I look at my progression over the past few years, and it’s frustrating but I trust the process and know that this style of jumping is what will bring out the most of my talent. I was jumping 15.20s in the indoor and that isn’t anywhere near my level of ability. But I’d almost taken a step backwards in performance to adopt the technique that will take me to greater distances. I have that safety valve in knowing that I can jump 16m or thereabouts from 10 steps, but our aims are much further than that, and only speed will get me there.

This year I have also begun training at Performance Ground – an elite training facility in London. It was quite lucky that I found them, but it has been a huge addition to my training. One of the harder parts about moving back from America was putting together all the pieces and resources that were previously all in one place – under one roof! Performance Ground is probably the best elite training centre in London and my work there is paying off. Tristan Baker, the Performance Director is my specific strength and conditioning coach. He is awesome to work with and understands the needs of the Triple Jump. Strength for the jumps is not the same as the sprints, it is much more of a reactive strength. Everything I do at Performance Ground has to translate onto the runway. Training there has been a massive addition to the program. It’s a fun place to be, and that is important for me. Sport at the end of the day has to be an activity that you enjoy!

Warm weather training was great. The facilities in Monte Gordo are perfect! I think going away is extremely valuable in preparing for the season. Not having to worry about the weather is a big factor but not the only one. Being away gives you the freedom to focus solely on training. It’s a time to engrain some of the technical concepts we’ve been working on throughout the year and with a more relaxed work schedule, it means I can take greater time in recovery and film analysis. I had a great time in Portugal and I’m in the best shape possible.

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?

JI: Typically, I focus on my spikes and how my feet are lined up. You might see me move my arm up and down to make sure everything is going forwards. In training we focus a lot on moving forwards, and do specific work on the first few strides of the run-up. When I get the crowd clapping, I still take a moment to make sure my feet are lined up how I want them to be. My focus is on one thing – the first step.

iTJ: In 2012 you enrolled at the University of Missouri in America where you studied and trained for 4 years. What first attracted you to making such a move and what do you think you gained from it?

JI: I started at the University of Missouri in January 2012. I was offered a full scholarship and presented with the opportunity to be coached by Kareem Streete-Thompson. I was always a strong student in the classroom and getting a degree was a no brainer for me. I speak French and had been intent on pursuing a career in sports politics. However, the thought of being in debt after completing a degree in the UK was a big deterrent. So I turned my attention to the US. After visiting the east coast years prior, I was intent on making the move to the US for university. The facilities and resources were on a different level to what I’d seen in the UK. In year 12 I started receiving interest from universities all over America, and knew that this was the path I would take.

In a nutshell, I saw it like this – going to the US would give me the chance to train with a great coach, have access to world class facilities and every medical resource, provide me with free sports apparel and footwear (essentially a kit deal), be 100% insured and on top of all of that earn a degree, all paid for. No university in the UK could offer me these things, so I packed my suitcase and headed across the pond.

I had a fantastic time in the states. I improved as an athlete, got to compete in front of thousands at Hayward Field, travelled all over America and made some lifelong friends. I had some injuries and some tough periods of competition, but that’s part of sport and part of life. Most of all, what I gained was a fearless approach to competition. Americans look at competition with a different mindset, especially at the collegiate level. They compete, and they compete to win, always. The sports psychology is where I found a big edge.

The experience I had in the US, on and off the track was second to none; football game days with our stadium filling out 75,000, spending Thanksgiving with my teammates in Colorado, jet skiing at the Lake of Ozarks. Not too many British athletes are aware of how great the experience is over there. I had a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I was funded to do it. Not a bad deal. If I could do it all again, I certainly would!

iTJ: On your return to the UK you founded RightTrack Sports Consultancy to help guide other athletes through the process of gaining a scholarship to the American collegiate system. How does the process work and how do you match an athlete with a suitable university?

JI: After graduating from the University of Missouri I founded RightTrack with the aim of supporting future student-athletes through the process and providing them with the right guidance. I pitched the idea to two other former student-athletes, Nana Owusu-Nyantekyi (Princeton ’15) and Sarah Abrams (Harvard ’15) and we got to work on building the organisation.

The process is much longer than the pathway for entry into a British university. It begins with research; understanding where you are as an athlete, what division you can compete in, what conference is suited to your ability and what university is suited to you as an individual.

It’s not the same process for every student. Some are weighted more towards Athletics, and others weighted more towards academics. We tailor the approach to suit the needs, preferences and profile of the student.

We handle the academic and athletic evaluation, SAT/ACT preparation, university matching, communication with coaches, eligibility forms, athletic scholarship guidance and visa application. Essentially everything! Once a student becomes part of the RightTrack family, they are provided with every branch of support required.

Aside from myself, Nana and Sarah, we have hired consultants who are alumni from some of the best universities in the US, both for sports and academically. Our aim is to make sure international student-athletes, especially in the sport of Athletics, get the right guidance. Nobody is better equipped to do that than people who have been there and experienced it.

We attended the England Athletics Indoor Age Group Championships in February at Sheffield and will be at the England U20/U23 Championships next month at Bedford, in addition to English Schools in July. Just look out for the RightTrack “R”!

For interested students (and parents!), I always welcome them to get in contact. Whether it’s just to have a chat about what the experience is like or get some information about a specific part of the process. I’m always happy to help. Feel free to contact me at:

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

JI: You can never predict a breakthrough, it just happens. But to reach that point you have to stay patient, trust the process and most of all believe in yourself. The mind is the most powerful tool you have – use it!

Jonathan Ilori Profile:

Date of Birth: 14/08/93
Club: Blackheath & Bromley
Lead Coach: John Shepherd
Personal Best: 16.10w/15.89m

Annual Progression:

2006: 11.30m  
2007: 11.93m 6th South of England U15 Inter Counties
4th Anglian Schools’ Championships
1st Suffolk Schools’ Championships
1st Suffolk County Championships
2008: 13.51w/13.36m 5th England Athletics U17 Championships
1st English Schools’ Cup
3rd Anglian Schools’ Championships
1st Suffolk Championships
2009: 14.06w/14.00m 4th English Schools’ Championships
4th England Athletics U17 Indoor Championships
7th England Athletics U17 Championships
3rd South of England Indoor Championships
2nd South of England U17 Championships
1st Anglian Schools’ Championships
2nd Surrey County Championships
2010: 14.84m 5th English Schools’ Championships
4th England Athletics U20 Championships
2nd South of England Indoor Championships
2nd South of England U20 Indoor Championships
4th South of England U20 Championships
1st Suffolk Schools’ Championships
2011: 15.35w/15.26m 3rd British U20 Championships
8th England Senor Championships
3rd England Athletics U20 Indoor Championships
1st South of England Indoor Championships
1st South of England U20 Championships
1st Anglian Schools’ Championships
2nd Surrey Championships
2012: 15.57w/15.22m 8th British Championships/Olympic Trials
1st England Athletics U20 Championships
2013: 15.53i 2nd England Athletics U23 Championships
2nd SEC Indoor Championships
2014: 16.10w/15.89m 2nd England Athletics U23 Championships
3rd SEC Indoor Championships
2015: 16.07w/15.75m 8th British Championships
2nd England Athletics U23 Championships
3rd England Athletics Championships
5th SEC Championships
15th SEC Indoor Championships
2016: 15.76m 5th British Indoor Championships
15th British Championships
1st South of England Championships
2nd South of England Indoor Championships
1st Surrey Indoor Championships
2017: 15.44i 7th British Indoor Championships
2nd South of England Indoor Championships
1st Surrey Indoor Championships


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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