Talented teen Efoloko on track for Tokyo 2020

Jona Efoloko at the 2018 IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere (Credit: Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via REUTERS)

Rugby League’s loss is athletics’ gain. In 2013, just a year after he’d forgone football for the track, Jona Efoloko was invited to train with the Salford Reds scholarship group in Greater Manchester.

“I started to think about Rugby League very seriously,” said the multi-talented teenager on the fast track to Tokyo 2020.

“I enjoyed it a lot and loved going down to train with the Reds. I’ve always like team sports – I played football but we lost every game – and so I guess that side of the sport appealed to me. But I realised I preferred athletics more.”

Fast forward five years and 18-year-old Efoloko is the new World Under 20 200m champion after smoking the opposition in a fiercely contested final in the Finnish town of Tampere. Fellow Brit Charlie Dobson snatched silver in what proved to be an historic one-two – the result underlining the strength in depth at the heart of UK sprinting.

“My experience in Tampere was amazing,” added Efoloko. “Being around the best teenagers in the world was incredible and Finland was a fascinating country to compete in.

“I was very confident going into the championships. I had the best tapering ever in preparation for the championships and I was running quickly and consistently. I knew if I put it all together when it mattered most I could come out victorious.”

Jona Efoloko of Great Britain celebrates after taking gold (Credit: Lehtikuva/Kalle Parkkinen via REUTERS)

Sixth former Efoloko bagged a personal best of 20.48 in the World Under 20 final – just weeks after sitting A Levels in Business, Sport and Sociology. The last two years have dictated a mad dash between the classroom and the track as the ambitious sprinter chases sporting glory and academic success.

“It’s been quite challenging because you’d have homework due and you’d be too tired to do it straight after training,” he explained. “So I’d usually stay up late to complete the homework. Also, A Level exams take place around the same time as the important competitions, so I had to ensure I’d done all my revision early.

“I didn’t want to get to the business end of the athletics season only to realise I hadn’t revised enough. I didn’t want to miss any training or races with the worlds coming up.”

With just weeks to go before A Level results day, Efoloko is confident he struck the right balance in a brave bid to pass his exams and get past his sprint rivals. “I wasn’t really stressed or worried about finding the balance,” he added. “I started early and did the school work little by little. I think it worked!”

TASS is supporting Efoloko in his dual career dream of combining a full-time education with elite sport. “The TASS support was a huge help during my time at Loreto College in Manchester,” added Efoloko.

“The bursary they provided allowed me to pay for my training and races without having to ask my parents or siblings. They’ve done so much for me already. TASS helped me to support myself for the first time.”

In spite of this summer’s sprint success, education remains key to Efoloko as he plots the future. He’s a man with a plan – and a plan B.

“From a young age my parents have drilled into me that education is very important if you want to be successful in the future,” he added. “As I’ve got older I’ve understood that more and more – I can really see the importance of education.

“You just never know with sport. It’s a tough industry and only a few make it so having a plan B – based on education – is important. It means that even if sport doesn’t go your way then you don’t stop achieving. It’s important for me to have targets on and off the track. I’m striving for greater success on two fronts.”