17th April 2018
FUTURES IN FOCUS: JONA EFOLOKO
At just 18 years of age, sprinter Jona Efoloko (coach: John Smith) is setting his sights on a memorable IAAF World Junior Championships this summer as he continues his progression in the sport.
Major competitions will not faze him as he has already made a big splash on the European circuit when at 16, he took gold in the men’s 200m at the inaugural European Athletics Youth Championships in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Fast forward 12 months and the Manchester-based sprinter was back in the medals again, this time with a silver at the European U20 Championships in Grosseto, Italy, edged out by fellow Brit, Toby Harries.
This summer, Efoloko has the chance to strut his stuff on the world stage for Great Britain & Northern Ireland at the World Junior Championships in Tampere, Finland, and is determined to get there.
“2016 was a mad year, especially the way I won because it was so close. There was 0.03s that split us (Efoloko and Kasper Kadestal) and it was a pretty unreal experience.
“Then last year, to come from lane eight with a calf problem and get silver was totally unexpected. I kept telling myself ‘I’m in the final, whatever happens, happens. Just give it everything’ and it worked.
“To be on the plane to Finland would mean a lot because it’s everything I’m training for now and that’s my big goal. It would tell me that all the hard work is paying off. To represent the country again would give me a real sense of pride. I’m proud to be one of those lucky enough to wear the British vest.”
Efoloko stumbled into the sport after being spotted at a school meet and having never considered athletics, was invited to a trial event.
At the time, he had just stopped playing Sunday League football and needed something to fill his time and took up the offer – the rest, as they say, is history.
The sprinter has recently been selected for the British Athletes Futures Academy programme – which highlights athletes who have the potential to win medals at future Olympic & Paralympic Games and World Championships – and he is honoured to be a part of the programme.
“To get recognition from your governing body means a lot,” Efoloko said. “All the hard work is paying off and it feels good.
“For people to say, ‘you’re doing a good job’ and they want to support you makes me really proud to be a part of it. Only a small amount of us get selected and it’s a phenomenal feeling to be in that top bracket.”
He also hopes to emulate another British sprinter who traded boots for spikes in Adam Gemili and follow in his footsteps on his quest for medals.
“Since I left football, athletics has spiralled into bigger and better things. Growing up I think every boy wants to be a footballer and that was my dream, but I’d never thought about athletics.
“My earliest memories of watching athletics were from Beijing in 2008 watching Usain Bolt, but even then I didn’t really follow him that much.
“I used to watch the Olympics and the occasional World Championships just because they were on but now I’m looking to be like Bolt, or British-wise Adam Gemili.
“He (Gemili) is someone I definitely look up to. I’ve not met him yet but I’ve followed his Power of 10 rankings closely.
“He also came from a footballing background and then took athletics by storm, it kind of relates to me. He used to play for Chelsea when he was younger, I was never that good but I can see some similarities,” he said.
In the last few months, Efoloko has gone from watching athletics on television to being one of the stars on it, following his appearance at the Muller Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham in February.
He lined up in his heat against 2014 4x100m relay World Championship and Commonwealth Games medallist Richard Kilty, where he finished third in 6.92 to reach the semi-finals.
In his semi, he faced off against European 4x100m gold medallist and Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games … medallist, Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and 4x100m World & European gold medallist – and eventual winner – CJ Ujah.
To be in the presence of some of the fastest men in British sprinting filled Efoloko with even more desire to make it to the top level of world sprinting.
“I was telling some of my training partners it’s so weird to be there,” he added. “When you see these guys on TV and then you’re next to them in the call room and in the warm-up area is so surreal.
“When you walk out and there’s loads of people watching you both in the stadium and on TV, it’s a difficult feeling to explain.”
The teenager’s family were watching him and cheering him on from their home in Manchester as he went on to finish seventh in his semi-final, matching his 6.92 time from the heats.
He hopes that the performances he is producing out on the track and making it to major championships go some way to repaying them for all the hard work they have put in to get him to where he is today.
He added: “Hopefully when they see me on the television and on the start line it makes them proud and they know that all the hard work they’ve put in and all the sacrifices they’ve made for me are coming together.
“They’ve done everything from pick me up from late night training sessions to come and watch me at competitions both here and abroad, all the things they do just to come and watch and support me, they’ve done so much.
“Going out, running fast times and winning medals becomes my way of being able to turn around and say ‘we all did this together’.”