Hackney long jumper determined to make the most of Commonwealth Games chance

JJ Jegede in action

JJ Jegede in action - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

JJ Jegede hopes the spirit forged from his Hackney roots can see him leap to Commonwealth long jump gold.

Jegede knows he is regarded as almost the invisible man of England’s trio of medal hopefuls behind Olympic champion Greg Rutherford and Chris Tomlinson.

However, the 28-year-old personal trainer is no stranger to having to scrap for recognition.

One of four children who grew up without a father, he had to learn quickly on Forest Gate’s unforgiving streets, but it has not stolen his love for the East End.

On the contrary, Jegede believes it bred in him a sense of urgency to make something of himself.

“Hackney is my ends – that’s East End speak,” he said. “It’s where I learnt everything about life.

“It taught me to be street-wise. I learnt no-one is going to give you anything so you have to earn it and only the strongest will survive.

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“I also learnt how to run away from kids who were bigger than me.

“My mother looked after all four of us on her own and that gave me the drive and ambition to achieve something so I could look after her instead.”

Not that athletics was Jegede’s first love – that was definitely football, with Arsenal his club of choice.

“Football was the only thing I played at school while watching Arsenal and wanting to get a JVC shirt, but my mum could not afford one,” he said.

Despite his allegiance to the Gunners, Jegede had unsuccessful trials for their arch-enemies Tottenham and Norwich City before his PE teacher at Barking Abbey School persuaded him to take a different sporting route.

He might have been a reluctant long jumper to begin with, but losing the first competition by one centimetre ignited his competitive spirit.

Significant injuries mean fourth in the European Championships of 2012 remains Jegede’s best international result to date and he missed out on Olympic selection in his own backyard in London, where Rutherford and Tomlinson again took centre stage at his expense.

That exclusion has only fuelled the desire of a man who takes nothing for granted, but he is determined not to be England’s invisible man again.

“Missing out on London 2012 cranks things up for me here having finally made a championship,” Jegede added.

“So it is both a big deal and an honour. How many get to put an England Lion on their shirt?

“I’ve gone under the radar because of the rivalry between Greg and Chris. It is like I don’t even exist and that can be a bit of a bugbear. However, it means there is no real pressure on me so it is a win, win really.

“I’m in the top five or six for distance in Glasgow, but I’m competing not just for a medal, but to win.

“Most people say it is not possible, but then some of those same people said I would not make a long jumper.”

Jegede’s quest for glory begins with qualifying on Tuesday.

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