From winning an international competition to breaking prestigious club records, Canterbury teenager Qi’-Chi Ukpai’s first summer as an under-17 athlete has already proved a fantastic one.
Ukpai, who has just finished Year 10 at Simon Langton Grammar School for Girls, is thriving on the field.
She jumped 12.35m at the Schools International Athletics Board (SIAB) triple jump competition for victory on July 15 in Grangemouth, Scotland, having cleared 1.68m in the high jump at the under-17 England Athletics Championships in Sheffield for second in mid-February.
But it was her personal-best of 12.35m which brought her most recent major success.
“I’m very happy,” she reflected.
“Obviously, it’s the furthest I’ve ever travelled to a competition. So we went up the day before and took our time.
“When we got to the hotel, I walked around and got the blood flowing again after being in the car that long.
“I think it was a really good experience. Obviously, I’ve been away, staying in a hotel with teams before, but never with the England team in another country.
“So that was a good experience.”
Asked if she was happier with her SIAB victory or her best distance, the 15-year-old, who became a National English Schools’ girls intermediate triple jump champion in Birmingham in late June, replied: “Both!
“I was going for another PB and I got that, which was good. I was pleased with the distance because, at the moment, distances are getting more important when it comes to selection for international teams.
“But the win was great as well.”
Her SIAB performance was also a Blackheath & Bromley AC under-17 girls’ club triple jump record for Ukpai. Another who holds some of their club records is World Championship gold medallist sprinter Dina Asher-Smith.
“That’s always good,” she noted of her latest club record.
“I have got the under-15 one, but I always felt the under-17 one wasn’t going to be as easy to break at all.
“So to be breaking it halfway through a season, I’m really pleased.”
Additionally, among the many stellar performances from England’s girls’ team, her display saw her awarded the David Littlewood medal for the best English performance of the Grangemouth meet.
Ukpai said: “There were so many wins from England that they could have chosen from.
“It does feel really good to be recognised. The team managers, who looked after us for the two days, were the ones that decided at the end.”
The versatile athlete intends to utilise her skills as she tries her hand at a multi-format event later this season.
“I’m doing high jump, long jump, triple jump, and I’m going to finish off my season this year with a heptathlon as well,” she explained.
“It keeps it interesting, trying different things, rather than just focusing on triple jump or high jump all the time.”
Ukpai, who also represents Dorking & Mole Valley AC, is one of the youngest in her age category - which makes her 2023 triumphs all the more impressive.
She said: “My goal was to break 12 [metres in the triple jump] and I did that very early on in the season.
“I think I’ve got all the goals I’ve set for myself.
“In my first year as an under-17, to be breaking all these records and jumping this far, I’m really pleased.”
But she feels taking on more senior competitors has helped bring even more out of her. Ukpai won in the under-17 age category of the ESAA - English Schools Championships triple jump event at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium with a distance of 12.21m, as well.
“It has in all the events, really, just by going up against older girls and having to push myself to keep up with them,” she said.
“But I don’t really view myself as younger than them and them being out of my reach. I just view it as an extra challenge.”
Ukpai has already eyed a place at the 2024 European Athletics under-18 Championships in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, next July, too.
She said: “This year, I’m just trying to finish off well and I’ll do the Nationals.
“But next year, that’s a serious year for me. There’s many under-18 and under-20 championships that I’m going to try and get selected for.”
Indeed, next year will be a vital one for Ukpai - at school, as well as on the field and the track.
For now, though, the summer holidays will help ease her hectic schedule somewhat.
She said: “There’s a bit less stress and less tests so it’s easier to manage that now!
“But we had our mocks earlier in April. Around that time, that was when I really had to balance my athletics and my academics.”
Competing in Slovakia would be a new experience - although she has now travelled outside of England, albeit to Scotland - but it’s something she’d relish.
“I don’t really view it as scary,” she said.
“I’m always really excited to go to new places.”