THE TIMING WAS PERFECT for Keturah Orji’s first American Record in the triple jump. She set that in ’16, the summer after her soph season at Georgia, in the grandest setting imaginable, the Olympic final. Now, on her first jump at the Chula Vista High Performance II meet (April 25), she for a second time bounced to an AR, flying 48-11½ (14.92). Great timing once more, for an Olympic Games is again nigh.
Orji’s jump to the threshold of 49-foot territory surpassed Tori Franklin’s former standard (48-8¼/14.84) set in May of ’18 by 3¼ inches and added 8 inches (20cm) to her own best set in ’19. (Continued below video)
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After reaching a long jump career best 22-5¾ (6.85) on April 03 at Chula Vista — where she now trains in her first real season with coach Jeremy Fischer — Orji felt ready to work some of that Rio magic.
“Jeremy and I are new with each other,” she acknowledges. “So I told him, ‘I do not want to foul my first jump,’ because honestly, my first jump is usually one of my best jumps.
“In Rio, my 14.71 jump that got me 4th place was my first jump also. And so I told him, ‘I don’t want to foul my first jump. I just want to get it in and then we can work from there.’ I focused on just carrying my speed horizontally. That’s one thing we’ve been focusing on, not having a hop that’s too high. And so I really just focused on that and everything else kind of carried itself and it didn’t feel too difficult. I know there’s some times where I’m really like exerting all my energy to try to jump far, but I felt like it was extremely relaxed and it felt easy. So I was extremely happy with my performance.”
The 25-year-old Orji has felt that skimming-through-the-phases sensation before. “Yeah, my American Record 14.71 in Rio felt like that,” she says. “I think there’s other times where it’s felt like that, but it’s kind of just been like a 14.50. So yeah, I was just really happy to get that mark out there, especially because I feel like I’ve been stuck in this 14.70 range for so many years, but it’s finally nice to get past that.”
After fouling her second jump, Orji then skipped out to 48-4½w (14.74) on her third, the No. 4 all-conditions leap ever by an American (see chart). After a couple more fouls, she wrapped her series with a 47-9¼w (14.56) in the final round. (Continued below)
“My series was honestly great,” she assesses. “Most of my fouls were baby fouls and the jumps looked pretty close to the 14.90 or 15-meter mark. So honestly I might’ve had a couple of fouls over 15m and even my third jump that was 14.74, that still would’ve been a PB for me [albeit wind-aided]. So just to be able to get two jumps at least over my PB and just feel great about myself — I felt overall it was an extremely strong series and very consistent.”
“I had competed in some smaller meets in 2020,” says Orji, whose last serious competition, at the ’20 USATF Indoor, saw her come up 1¾ inches short to Tori Franklin’s indoor AR. “but honestly, after COVID hit I wasn’t getting much quality training in, so it is nice to be back fully training, and two PBs at my first two meets.”
The pandemic, you won’t be surprised, delayed the true beginning of her collaboration with California-based jumps coach Fischer, who also has LJ great Brittney Reese in his group. “For 2020, I was kind of back and forth between Florida and California, but I always knew ultimately I was going to come to California to work full-time with Jeremy,” Orji says. “So, yeah, I’ve just done that now. So this will be pretty permanent.
“My husband and I bought a house in Atlanta, but Jeremy’s gonna be my coach for the foreseeable future.”
You read that right: husband. Last September Orji married Kisean Smith, her fiancé at the time his now bride stepped up as our T&FN Interview subject for the July/August 2020 issue.
Set with her partner in life, Orji is also treading a new path in her labors with Fischer.
“I think the main thing we worked on is my approach,” she says. “I wasn’t driving as long as I am now. My drive phase is longer with my new approach. And I think that’s helped me to be way more consistent and just to have more speed once I get to my last steps. And so I feel extremely good about my approach now.
“Then we’ve also been working again, like I said earlier, on that hop. I used to have a really high hop, which would cause my second phase to like kind of crash. I mean, my second phase still isn’t anything amazing, but I felt like it it’s more comfortable now and that’s because I’m carrying my speed more horizontally versus going upwards into my hop.”
With the Olympic Trials TJ Q-round now less than 8 weeks away, Orji has a few May meets penciled in for polishing her technique.
“Hopefully I’ll do Mt. SAC,” she says. “And then I also may do the Diamond Leagues in Gateshead [May 23] and Doha [May 28].”
Through the training grind Orji feels blessed to have Reese — she of 7 Worlds LJ golds indoors and out plus the ’12 Olympic crown — by her side.
Reese, Orji says, is “extremely supportive. She pushes me. She’s the type of person that has that button. If things aren’t going well, she’s just gonna hit the button and turn things on. And so just being able to see her work; if a day’s not going too well, she can work through that and turn it around. Yeah, just supportive and encouraging. So I really appreciate that.
“And the funny thing too is I had a poster of Brittney Reese up on my wall when I was younger and now we’re training partners.”