At 6ft 5in tall and 20st 6lb, he became known as a “Schoolboy Jonah Lomu” when an integral part of the Whitgift School team that won the Daily Mail Cup under-18s national schools rugby title in April.
But after he won the national under-20s discus championship earlier this month with the second longest throw in the world in his age-group this year, making him a strong medal hope at next month’s World Junior Championships, Lawrence Okoye says his future lies in athletics.
Okoye’s 63.92 metres winning throw at the national under-20s championships is just one foot short of Emeka Udechuku’s UK junior record, yet came only after he focused on his athletics after the rugby season, where the 18-year-old is a member of London Irish’s Academy.
Now working with coach John Hillier, it is the summer sport and the 2012 London Olympics that seems to be drawing him, as this exclusive interview conducted by Will Downes suggests.
Who’s coaching you?
LO: I compete for Croydon Harriers, but I am coached by John Hillier. John has helped me tremendously. I’ve only started to focus for the last five or six weeks. If I can throw similar to this at the World Juniors and be consistent then I’ll be pleased.”
When did you first throw a discus and what attracted you to that?
LO: When I was a lot younger, but I didn’t really take it seriously back then. I always enjoyed athletics and one day just randomly picked up a discus.
How helpful is Croydon in encouraging and supporting you?
LO: I’ve been supported mainly by my headmaster at Whitgift School. He was the one that really pushed me to take discus seriously. He has also helped me significantly with the costs associated with the sport (discs, throwing shoes, travel etc).
What do you prefer, competing in a team or individually?
LO: There isn’t anything like being part of a successful team. While playing rugby for Whitgift I have had some of the best moments of my life. However, competing on your own has its merits and I have thoroughly enjoyed my experiences so far.
After winning the national under-20s discus title, what are your thoughts about which sport you will pursue?
LO: Athletics is definitely my priority right now. I’ll see how I progress over the summer and afterwards I’ll have a more complete answer to that question.
We’ve heard it suggested that with your sprinting speed and power, you might compete in the decathlon. Does that interest you?
LO: I’m yet to master the discus, let alone nine other events! I don’t think the decathlon is for me.
Outline a typical week’s training during the athletic’s season and one in the rugby season.
LO: Rugby season: London Irish Monday, Whitgift Tuesday, Whitgift Wednesday, London Irish Wednesday, Whitgift Thursday, Whitgift match Saturday.
Athletics: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday throwing.
What do you value more, your Daily Mail Cup-winners’ medal or your national junior discus title?
LO: They both have carry an equal weighting: I am very proud of what my school team managed to achieve and am obviously happy that I have done as well as I have in the discus.