It’s the day of the 2018 Australian Athletics Championships and triple jumper Emmanuel Fakiye is worried. And rightly so. The competition is his best chance at qualifying for the Commonwealth Games but he has a badly bruised heel, the result of an injury just two weeks before.
“My coaches taped me up. They were so nervous. They literally couldn’t watch me jump,” says Emmanuel, a fourth-year Engineering (Honours) student.
But during the warm-ups, the taping was doing its job and on his second last jump Emmanuel catapulted himself into first place with a jump of 16.08m. After his final jump, he had to nervously watch on as three more competitors attempted to beat his distance. Luckily for him, no one could.
Emmanuel is now headed to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast from 4-15 April. His heel has recovered and although he’s part of a 109-person strong athletics team, he’s the only triple jumper selected for the competition.
Emmanuel grew up around athletics. His older brother was a sprinter, one of the top eight in Australia when Emmanuel was growing up. But he didn’t exactly want to follow in his brother’s (very fast) footsteps. “I remember driving three hours to Canberra, watching my brother run for 10 seconds, then hopping back in the car and driving home,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I didn’t want to do that.”
Triple jump, on the other hand, combined many elements of athletics that he loved – speed, technique, power. “Maybe it’s because of my engineering background, but I really love the physics of the sport, the body mechanics. You need to be at your maximum speed when you hit the board and then you need a big hop. Working out how to best move forward, both aggressively and smoothly, is really important.”
When Emmanuel jumps, he puts 15 times his own body weight of force into the ground to propel himself forwards – that’s more than a tonne of power. Technique is a crucial element, as are significant flexibility, rehab exercises, gym time and practice on the track. Emmanuel must manage a five day-a-week training schedule, not to mention physiotherapist and specialist visits, all while keeping up with his studies.
The son of Nigerian parents, Emmanuel and his family moved to Sydney from London in 2001. He says they are very supportive of his athletic and academic pursuits but did have one rule when it came to choosing a degree. “They just didn’t want me to become a civil engineer,” he laughs.
He respected his parents’ wishes and chose electrical engineering instead. “The group that I study with is great and I love some of the things I learn. You have those moments where you just can’t believe that stuff works like it does,” he says.
Apart from the reputation of the university, his decision largely rested on one thing: lunch. “A friend of mine said he’d pay for my lunch every day of my first year if I studied with him at UTS,” he says. “I said ‘sure’ and he followed through.” Unsurprisingly, he ate a lot of Uni Brothers kebabs from the Tower building in his first year.
The Elite Athlete Program, administered by ActivateUTS, supports Emmanuel financially to attend competitions and represent the university as well as helping to manage his assessment schedule and access to the gym and physio facilities. He’s represented UTS three times at Australian University Games and last year was part of the UTS team that not only won athletics but clinched the overall trophy for the first time.
“I love the athletics team here,” he says. “Athletics is an individual sport, which can often be really tough – you can end up in your own head. It helps to have a really good team around you that’s close and you can have a good time with.”
Emmanuel already has his eyes on the 2019 World Championships in Athletics and the 2020 Olympics. And his chances at the Commonwealth Games? “A lot of people are just telling me to soak it up and enjoy the experience,” he grins. “But I want to challenge for a medal. I want to win.”
Find out more about our UTS athletes going for gold at the Commonwealth Games with this handy guide.