At 6ft 5in, Lawrence Okoye measures up to Usain Bolt in physical stature and, at 20st 6lb, the Croydon discus thrower certainly outweighs the Jamaican sprinter. And when it comes to the Olympic celebration game, this former "Schoolboy Lomu" can eclipse the Lightning Bolt too.
Bolt's clowning antics after his 100m win on Sunday night might have included a somersault in front of the main stand but that was nothing compared with Okoye's performance in the discus circle yesterday morning. The pressure was on this giant of a 20-year-old after his first effort in the qualifying round hooked out of the cage and very nearly took out two photographers on the in-field, before his second fell short of the distance needed to make the final, at 63.00m.
That left the former rugby union prodigy – a flying outhouse of a wing in the Jonah Lomu mould, who scored a try at Twickenham in the English Under-18s cup final two years ago – with just the one last attempt to make it. With a mighty effort, he hurled the discus out to 65.28m, the fourth best throw of the day. Then he went berserk.
There he was, clenching his fists, jumping up and down and roaring. It threatened to shake the Olympic Stadium's foundations and the 80,000 crowd loved it, erupting with a roar of their own. As soon as Okoye had regained his composure, he made a beeline for the front row of the stand and embraced his coach, John Hillier. The crowd loved that, too.
As he left the track, it was suggested to Okoye that he could claim the gold medal for the best celebration of the Games. "Yeah, but you don't get any medals for that," he replied. "It meant so much because the two years I've spent doing the discus would have gone down the pan if I hadn't got through."
In the summer of 2010, after making the British team for the World Junior Championships, Okoye deferred a place to study law at Oxford University and gave up rugby to concentrate on the discus.
"That was an unbelievable experience," he continued. "The standard this year is much tougher than it's ever been – 63.55m to get through. The average is 62.38m.
"It's tough. You've got three throws to get it right. The first one was so bad but I came back, luckily. That's what it's all about. I showed some character, which is good.
"It took a lot to get through but I'm glad I got the job done. Tomorrow I've got as big a job to do. There are big guys coming through. It's going to be tough to get amongst them. I've got to make sure I go home, concentrate, rest and recover, and make sure I come out strong tomorrow."
Okoye will go into tonight's final with a medal shot. His last-gasp effort yesterday ranked him fourth from the two qualifying pools, behind the defending champion Gerd Kanter of Estonia (66.39m), world champion Robert Harting of Germany (66.22m) and Jorge Fernandez of Cuba (65.39sec). No Briton has ever won an Olympic discus medal.Reuse content