Georgia triple jumper seeks to defend title, chase U.S. record

Georgia sophomore Keturah Orji set the collegiate record in the women's triple jump with a leap of 46 feet, 10 3/4 inches (14.29m) at the NCAA East Preliminary Round in late May. (Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Athletics)

EUGENE, Ore. – With one impressive dash down the runway, Georgia’s Keturah Orji cleared up some clutter in the women’s triple jump, at least regarding what the collegiate record is and who has it.

As of today, she does.

Before Orji’s showing at the NCAA East Preliminary Round, two women could claim to be the collegiate record-holder in what used to be known as the hop, step and jump. LSU’s Suzette Lee reached 46 feet, 9 inches (14.25m) indoors in 1997, a mark equaled outdoors by Florida State’s Kim Williams in 2011.

However, that tie was swept away by Orji on May 28 in Jacksonville when she soared 46-10 ¾ (14.29m). She is an overwhelming favorite to win her second NCAA outdoor title at Hayward Field and a solid pick to make the Olympic team three weeks later in the Trials.

“It felt like one of my 14-meter (45-11 ¼) jumps,’’ Orji said of her new personal best. “I didn’t think it was that far. I was happy about it but I wasn’t as emotional as I thought I would be. It definitely gives me a lot of confidence. It was a PR, so I’m happy about that.’’

As of June 3, the Georgia sophomore has the 14th best jump in the world for 2016 and is more than a foot clear of the next three Americans she will see at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Track & Field, July 1-10, at Hayward Field. They are Christina Epps (45-9 ¼/13.95m), Crystal Manning (45-9/13.94m) and Andrea Geubelle (45-8 ½/13.93m).

“It is kind of exciting to know you can make the Olympic team,’’ Orji said. “It is a goal of mine but I have to take it one meet at a time. I’m going to have the same approach as I do all my meets. I want to get a good strong jump on my first jump and just focus on myself and what I need to jump.’’

Orji’s head coach at Georgia, Petros Kyprianou, is also her event coach. As such, he expects her to challenge the American record of 47-5 (14.45m) by Tiombe Hurd from 2004 sooner rather than later. Perhaps as soon as the NCAA meet if conditions are favorable and the wind is kind.

“That’s our goal,’’ said Kyprianou, a Cypriot who came to the U.S. following the Athens Olympics in 2004. “When I recruited her I gave her a four-year plan. I can see a lot of similarities with her and (former Russian triple jumper Tatiana Lebedeva). They’re not big, intimidating jumpers like the world record-holder Inessa Kravets. They’re smaller and faster.’’

Right now, Kyprianou is trying to get Orji to be more technically sound and consistent in practice so it will carry over to competitions. He said as a freshman in 2015 Orji nailed one out of 20 jumps technically sound in practice. As a sophomore, she’s at a 1-out-of-12 pace.

Georgia sophomore Keturah Orji is the reigning women's triple jump champion at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. (Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Athletics)

Georgia’s Keturah Orji, the reigning NCAA women’s triple jump champion, will also compete in the long jump at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field this week. (Photo courtesy of University of Georgia Athletics)

“When we get to one out of five, we’ll be at the American record or farther,’’ the coach said. “Technically, I want her to get everything perfect. If we get one out of five, we’ll be ready for 14.50m (47-7).

Earlier this season, Orji had a wind-aided leap of 47-10 ¾ (14.60m). On her last attempt at the SEC Championships, she fouled by perhaps two or three centimeters on a jump that Kyprianou said measured 48-4 (14.73m), with a maximum wind reading of 2.0 meters per second.

So, the potential is there for Orji to go where no U.S. woman triple jumper has ever been before: being among the best in the world on a consistent basis. Of the women ranked in the top 10 in the world last year by Track & Field News, the shortest was Keila Costa of Brazil at 46-6 (14.17m) and the longest was Russia’s Yekaterina Koneva at 49-4 ½ (15.04m).

Orji, only 20, has time to join the party.

“I feel I can’’ get there, she said. “If I can get over 14.60 consistently, I’ll be there. It takes time and experience.’’

As part of her training, Orji and Kyprianou watch clips of Colombia’s Caterine Ibarguen, the No. 1-ranked jumper in the world. She won all 11 competitions she entered in 2015, including the World Championships with a jump of 48-10 ¾ (14.90m). Experience is paramount in the triple jump as Ibarguen is 32, with three others in the top ten age 30 or older.

“She’s pretty educated in her event,’’ Kyprianou said of his pupil. “Kids at that age are not really students of track and field. Once she becomes a student of her event and stays humble, 15 meters (49-2 ½) is the absolute goal of both of us. You jump that, you’re going to win at the Olympics.’’

At the NCAA meet this week, Orji will contest the long jump as well as the triple jump. She’s the defending champion in the latter who believes the former helps her in her primary event.

“The long jump helps with my third phase (in the triple jump) and also helps with my speed,’’ she said. “I have a lot of competition in the long jump. I do want to PR and get second or third, at least top five.’’

As for her primary event at the NCAA Championships followed by the Olympic Trials, Orji figures to be in the top one if everything goes well.

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