Triple jump run-up took many a twist, Scotland cap Onyia tells Mark Woods
IT’S A big joke back in London,” declares Chuxx Onyia amid a bombastic laugh. “They keep telling me: ‘you’ve left us’.” Their loss, Scotland’s gain – in athletics terms, at least. The 27-year-old, who opens his summer season in national colours in the triple jump at today’s Loughborough International, derives his accent from formative years spent in Croydon but his perspective hails from lands far and wide.
‘It’s just taken me longer than them to get here’
The son of a Nigerian diplomat who was constantly itinerant, he acquired the skill of speedily assimilating wherever became his home. Sensing a need to offer some stability during those awkward teenage years, his father opted to pull his offspring off the road. “I had family in Dublin so they sent me off to boarding school there,” he recounts. “I was the only black kid. I lived in Howth and I was the only black kid in the entire area. It was a bit strange. But I quickly got used to it. Luckily for me, I never felt left out so it was a positive experience.”
It was in Ireland where he first acquainted himself with track and field. It came easily.
Football and gymnastics competed for his attentions but the simplicity resonated.
Moving back to the UK, his local club provided a singular point to integrate himself into the locale. “Martyn Rooney and James Dasaolu were there at the time,” he reflects of the European champions. “Sutton was just down the road so Harry Aikines-Aryeetey was around a lot as well, plus a few others who are on the world scene at the moment. We all grew up together so when I see them now, I know just what hard work and commitment you need to go a long way.”
Those were assets which, he acknowledges, were not cemented within his own DNA. Instead of gallivanting around the Diamond League circuit or building cabinets for medals and trophies, Onyia divides his time between a commute to training in Edinburgh under his coach John Scott, running a personal fitness company and sharing the parenting of his two-year-old son.
It required a light-bulb moment back in 2012 to realise he was in danger of engendering regrets, that he had not maximised his natural physiology. “There are guys who I was beating when I was younger who are competing on the circuit now and doing well. As kids, we all messed around and had fun but whereas they took their training seriously, I let mine fall away.”
Having completed his degree at Aberdeen University, Onyia sought out the guidance of Bob Masson, a specialist in multi-events. His edict was to stay patient in his quest to make up for lost time rather than attempt to short-circuit the process. “With John, the focus is to get where I should have been by now. I’m lifting 50 kilos more than last year. And it’s been a different approach. So now it’s about getting out on a track and turning that into progress in distances.”
In claiming victory in February’s Scottish Indoor Championships, he leaped 15.40 metres, the furthest of his career. It ranked him seventh in UK terms last winter, with Chicago-based Scot James McLachlan four spots ahead. There is more to come, he senses, much more. “I consider myself a late bloomer. I’m still breaking PBs in training – and in the weight room.
“I’m running faster times and developing as an athlete but these guys have peaked around 26, 27. I’m still going but it doesn’t feel like I’m playing catch-up. It’s just taken me longer than them to get here.”
Loughborough, where he came fifth on his Scotland debut in 2014, is traditionally a proving ground. Twelve months ago, the international – which also features England, Wales, GB&NI Under-20s and the host university – flagged up the ability of young sprinters Dina Asher-Smith and Chijindu Ujah. This time, Onyia will be among many looking for signs of a hop, skip and jump forwards. “Last year it didn’t go too well. I’m hoping this time round I’ll be adding a few more centimetres. And then some more.”
Elsewhere, Mark Dry and Chris Bennett are set to meet in the hammer while Lynsey Sharp, Scotland’s team captain, goes in the 4x400m relay.