There has been a quiet resurgence in women’s long jump in the UK. Lorraine Ugen tells SPIKES how she hopes to continue the trend.
Lorraine Ugen “really enjoys” competing indoors. The British long jumper has returned from her last two international indoor championships with a medal around her neck and a national record in the bag.
“It’s cosy. There are fewer elements to deal with,” the 25-year-old says of indoor competition. “Coming off the back of winter training, you know that you’re strong, have no niggles or issues. You’re fresher.”
Most recently, at the European indoors in Belgrade, Ugen won silver with a jump of 6.97m – a British record. This was a 4cm improvement on the mark she notched for bronze at the Portland World Indoors 12 months earlier.
Outdoors, things have not been gone so swimmingly. A hamstring injury in the months after Portland forced her to withdraw from the outdoor European championships. Although she made the final at Rio 2016, the physical toll of her injury was clear as she finished 11th.
Ugen has little positive to say about her Olympic debut. She says the 2015 Beijing World Championships were a bigger learning curve.
“That was the first time I made it through to the final and went through the rounds, coming back and jumping similar distances,” she says. “In Rio it was kind of, not that I’d done it before, but I’d experienced that.”
The Texas Christian University graduate says going through America’s collegiate system, where she faced “strong competitors every week”, also helped her establish championship resolve.
“Once I’d won the NCAAs [outdoors in 2013 and indoors in 2014] I knew I was good enough to medal at a world championships, European championships, whatever it may be,” she says.
The challenge now for Ugen, who remains based in the States, is to carry her form into the outdoor season; the focus is on the summer’s London World Championships, which will be staged less than six miles from where she was schooled. Having competed in her ends before, the Thamesmead raised athlete is understandably desperate for a return.
“I did the London Diamond League in 2013,” she recalls. “It still had that Olympic buzz from the year before. The crowd was crazy. If the atmosphere is like that, then it’s going to be a really good championships.”
“I definitely think seven metres is something I’m capable of”
First she has to qualify. Ugen was one of four British long jumpers to bag the qualification mark of 6.75m or more in 2016. The other three were Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Shara Proctor and Jazmin Sawyers. Each has won a major medal in recent years – KJT: world indoor silver, 2014; Proctor: world silver, 2015; Sawyers: European silver, 2016.
The coming months will see a scramble for the three available slots. Ugen says she is driven by the domestic competition, which is deeper than ever.
“You have to make sure you’re on point, ready to go,” she says. “You can’t just relax and think it will be easy because, even at home, there’s strong competition.”
Kicking off the year with a podium finish and national record improves Ugen’s odds of making it onto the British team, just as she did in 2016 in spite of injury.
“Coming into this year I’m trying to keep myself healthy and injury free, so that my outdoor season can be just as good [as indoors],” Ugen adds.
“Knowing that I can [win a medal] at the Euros lets me know that, coming into outdoors, I’ve overcome the injuries. I’m back and stronger.”
At the last world championships, it took a British record 7.07m for Proctor to win GB’s first long jump medal in history. Ugen is not naïve to the fact that it will likely require another plus seven effort to make the podium in London.
“I was hoping that I could get over seven metres [in Belgrade],” she admits. “I definitely think that it’s something I’m capable of doing. I just need to clean up my technique a little bit.”
Does Ugen believe she can replicate Proctor’s historic success?
“100%. That’s what I’m going there to do. Snatch a medal.”
Keep up to date with all the latest from London 2017 here.