Keturah Orji is leaping past records while challenging norms

Keturah Orji
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Author’s Note: Keturah Orji – nicknamed KO – is the American record holder in the women’s triple jump. On Sunday at U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Oregon, Orji will look to secure her spot on a second Olympic team. At the Tokyo Olympics, Orji could become the first American woman to win an Olympic triple jump medal.

As a sophomore at Mount Olive high school in New Jersey, Keturah Orji (pronounced kuh-TOR-uh) didn’t have a lot of free time during track meets. She typically entered five individual events: the 100m, 200m, 400m, high jump, and long jump.

But on a bus ride to one of Mount Olive’s first dual meets of the 2012 season, Orji approached her coach, Vanessa Benfatti, with a proposition.

“Keturah hated the 400m and I’m using the word ‘hate’ very strongly here,” Benfatti recalled. “Because she’s a brainiac, she said to me, ‘If I do the triple jump, and I win it, isn’t it the same thing as if I win the 400?'”

After some back-and-forth, Benfatti agreed that Orji could try the triple jump that day.

“It came to me really naturally,” Orji said. “I had just seen people do it, and replicated what I saw. And on my first attempt, I almost broke the school record.”

It only took her two more tries. With her third attempt – a leap of 39-2 1/4 feet (11.94 meters) – the school record was hers.

“I looked at my assistant, and he looked at me, and it was one of those incredible ‘Aha!’ moments,” Benfatti said.

Needless to say, Orji made her point.

She graduated two years later as a three-time high school outdoor national champion (two in triple jump, one in long jump).

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The first great American female triple jumper

At most Olympics since women’s triple jump debuted in 1996, the U.S.  didn’t have more than one or two athletes who achieved the international standard required to compete at the Games. Heading into the 2016 Rio Olympics, the best American finisher in women’s triple jump was Sheila Hudson, who placed 10th in 1996.

So there weren’t any posters of American triple jumpers in Orji’s childhood bedroom. Instead, she had a poster of Brittney Reese, a two-time Olympic medalist in long jump, who Orji now trains alongside in Chula Vista, California.

Orji said she is motivated by the idea of wanting to “put America on the map for women’s triple jump.”

Five years ago, she was less ambitious about her goals, which can be seen in a letter she wrote herself after she qualified for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I told myself, ‘It would be great to come top 10, but if you can pull out top five, that would be amazing,'” she said. ‘When I read it after the Olympics I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I got fourth!'”

Orji might have been the happiest fourth-place finisher at the Rio Games, where she broke her own American record in the final (14.71 meters). “I was really happy with how I performed there even though I missed out on a medal by one inch,” she said.

Looking ahead to this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, however, Orji has the podium in sight. And the significance of that is not lost on her.

“If I do, I’ll be the first American to win a medal in women’s triple jump.”

RELATED: 100 ways women can make Olympic and Paralympic history (No. 31-40)

The art of the triple jump

There are three components to the triple jump: the hop, the step (or skip) and the jump.

“People always think that if you’re faster, you’ll jump further. But you have to be able to control your speed in triple jump,” Orji said. “Sometimes, a slower person can jump farther if they’re more technical.”

Triple jump is also extremely hard on the body.

“The amount of force you put into the ground, it’s a lot.”

Like, a lot.

During the landing between the hop and the step, triple jumpers absorb close to 15 times their bodyweight on one leg as they take off from the ground.

“It’s not something you can do every week and preserve your body.” To limit the impact, Orji and other elite triple jumpers don’t often practice the full event.

In training, “it’s very rare that you’re actually jumping from a full approach,” Orji said. “My full approach in competition is 18 steps, but in practice, the most I’ll probably do is 8-10 steps.”

Once she gets to competition, Orji doesn’t just rely on the measuring tape to tell her if she had a good jump.

“My best jumps always feel the most floaty,” she said.

Earlier this year, Orji reclaimed the American record from Tori Franklin, jumping 14.92 meters at her first meet of the season.

Heading towards Tokyo, she’s aiming for 15 meters, a goal she printed out and taped to the ceiling above her bed.

“It’s an important barrier to eclipse for most female triple jumpers,” she said. “And it would be great to jump further than that.”

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Orji’s challenge to the sports marketing world

It’s no secret that women in sports, and especially women of color, don’t receive equitable treatment and promotion.

By showing up at the track as her authentic self, Orji wants to elevate the conversation about the way women are marketed.

“I don’t think women should be undervalued or not get as much publicity because they don’t choose to put on a whole face [of makeup],” she said.

“A lot of women have the nails done, the eyelashes, the long hair… and that’s fine. But it shouldn’t be expected of women to look that way.

“When men go out and compete… they may get a haircut, but other than that, their performance speaks for them.”

Orji knows that the issue of who is getting publicity – and who isn’t – is also exacerbated by a product of racism: colorism, a form of discrimination that favors people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.

“I feel like people who are lighter skinned… they usually get more publicity.”

And because publicity leads to followers, and followers lead to market value, “they’re probably paid more,” Orji said. “Darker skinned athletes, they’ve seen the difference.”

Orji often discusses her thoughts on racial justice, financial planning, and her favorite books on her blog, which she spends time writing when she isn’t training or taking classes towards her Masters’ in accounting.

Watch Keturah Orji compete at U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials: Broadcast and Streaming Schedule

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

2023 March Madness: Utah Utes engineer dramatic turnaround for third-ever Sweet Sixteen appearance

Members of the Utah Utes celebrate their win over the Princeton Tigers in the second round of the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament.
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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The No. 2-seeded Utah (27-4) women’s basketball team held off a pesky 10th-seeded Princeton squad on Sunday, winning 63-56 to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championships for the first time since 2005-06 and just the third time in the program’s history.

“I’m proud of our team,” said eighth-year head coach Lynne Roberts after the second-round win at Utah’s Hunstman Center. “We set out to do this a year ago. We lost in this game at University of Texas and the goal was to be able to host (this year) so that we could have that home-court advantage and it made a difference.”

Utah’s fourth-year junior Alissa Pili backed up her recent second-team All-American honor with another 20-plus-point performance, scoring 28 on 8-for 13 shooting with 10 rebounds and going 11-for 13 on free throws. Sophomore forward Jenna Johnson added 15 points and six rebounds.

There’s been a lot of talk this weekend about how the Utes’ previous few seasons have ended – beginning with a rough 14-17 season that was cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic, followed by an abysmal 5-16 record in 2020-21. But the tide turned last year, as Utah rebounded with a 21-12 season that ended with a 78-56 loss to Texas in Austin in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year ago.

So, what changed?

“Last year, everyone was new to the NCAA tournament, so I think everyone was just experiencing it for the first time,” mused Johnson. “Losing in the second round last year, we’re definitely a lot hungrier this year, and then obviously hosting in Salt Lake, it’s fun just being in your own environment, to be around your own fans. I think it gives us an elevated level of confidence, both knowing what it’s like it play in this tournament and also getting to be at home.”

“Yeah, freshman year was kind of rough,” added third-year sophomore Kennady McQueen, who chipped in nine points Sunday. “We did experience losing a lot. … Coach Roberts, she said we are not going to have another season like that. We all stood behind her — the people that stayed — and brought in great people like starting last year with Jenna and Gi (Gianna Kneepkens) and people like that who have had a huge impact in helping us to where we are today. …

“When you get together a group of people that have the same goal in mind and will do make anything to make it happen, I think that’s where we have seen our success rate going up. This past offseason, we just kept getting better, and of course, the addition of the Alissa Pili really helped. When you bring a group of girls that have the same dream and same goal at the end of the year and doesn’t care about personal stats more than winning, I think we get the season that we have today, and it prepares us for deep run in March.”

In particular, McQueen believe it was Utah’s improvement in their defense that was crucial to the turnaround. “Everyone knows how good we are on offense, but if we can’t get stops, it doesn’t matter how good you are on offense,” she said. “So that’s just been a key the whole past off-season and all of this season — just getting better on defense.”

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: Alissa Pili revives her love of basketball with record season at Utah

Roberts credits their defensive improvement with a “philosophical mindset change,” explaining, “We worked on [defense] a lot differently, a lot more intentionally. Strategically we made some changes of how we are going to defend, and I won’t bore you with that. But there was a lot, just different things because you have to play to your strengths. You can’t be a run-and-jump pressing team if you don’t have the depth and athletes to do it. You can’t be a zone team if you are not super big. You have to figure out what fits your personnel, and so that’s what we did.”

There’s also the undeniable impact of Pili, a transfer from USC who has found her stride as a Ute, where she recently was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year.

“She kind of is the straw that stirs the drink for us right now,” said Roberts of the 21-year-old Alaska native. “She’s a nightmare to defend because she can shoot the three, and she’s also really athletic and mobile, so it doesn’t matter who we are playing. I think you have to gameplan for her. But then with her three-point shooting, you know, you have to pick your poison.”

But Roberts also gave plenty of kudos to Johnson, whom she describes as “phenomenal.”

“She’s 19 going on 40,” Roberts said of Johnson. “She’s the most mature, even-keeled consistent player we have. What I love about her is she is who she is. She’s confident in who she is. She knows who she is. She also is incredibly busy off the court.

“We were talking as we were getting ready to watch film, just shooting the breeze a bunch of us, we were talking about movies. And she was like, Oh, I don’t watch movies. Why not? I don’t have time. I get bored. What do you mean you don’t have time? Do you watch shows? No, I don’t ever watch TV. It is because she is doing all of these other extracurricular activities.”

As for guiding to the Utes to becoming a championship program, Roberts still sees it as an uphill battle – but one that she and her players are ready for.

“I always use the analogy of pushing the boulder up the hill,” she said. “And doing things for the first time, you have to have that mindset. You have to keep pushing. It’s been incredibly fun to see the support, and I think the swell is a perfect word for it. Most importantly, our players feel it.

“This is why you play, right? And it means so much. I know I say it over and over, but this is not going to be a flash-in-the-pan [season]. This isn’t going to be a ‘Oh, remember that year they had such an incredible year?’ We are going to keep doing it.”

RELATED: 2023 March Madness 2023 — Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship

2023 March Madness: Updated bracket, scores and schedule for NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship


Editor’s note: We’ll keep this page updated, so be sure to check back here for winners, scores and next-round details as the tournament progresses.

The bracket for 2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship is officially set and defending champion South Carolina earned the No. 1 overall seed for the second straight season. A total of 68 teams will see tournament action, beginning with the “First Four” games on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Round 1 play kicking off on Friday.

On Her Turf has compiled the matchups, sites and schedule for the tournament, which culminates Sunday, April 2 with the title game from American Airlines Center in Dallas.

2023 tournament No. 1 seeds:

  • South Carolina Gamecocks
  • Indiana Hoosiers
  • Virginia Tech Hokies
  • Stanford Cardinal

Last four teams in the tournament:

  • Illinois
  • Mississippi State
  • Purdue
  • St. John’s

First four teams out of the tournament:

  • Columbia
  • Kansas
  • UMass
  • Oregon

RELATED: South Carolina nabs No. 1 overall seed in NCAA women’s basketball tournament

‘First Four’ game schedule

Wednesday, March 15

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11. Illinois vs. 11. Mississippi State (South Bend, Indiana)
    • Winner: Mississippi State, 70-56
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Southern U vs. 16 Sacred Heart (Stanford, California)
    • Winner: Sacred Heart, 57-47

Thursday, March 16

  • 7 p.m. ET: 11 Purdue vs. 11 St. John’s (Columbus, Ohio)
    • Winner: St. John’s, 66-64
  • 9 p.m. ET: 16 Tennessee Tech vs. 16 Monmouth (Greenville, S.C.)
    • Winner: Tennessee Tech, 79-69

Bracket, schedule* by region 

*Includes scores, game time and TV network, if available


Columbia, S.C.

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. South Carolina 72, 16. Norfolk State 40
    • 8. South Florida 67, 9. Marquette 65
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. South Carolina 76, 8. South Florida, 45

Los Angeles, California

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Oklahoma 85, 12. Portland 63
    • 4. UCLA 67, 13. Sacramento State 45
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. UCLA vs. 5. Oklahoma, 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

South Bend, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Creighton 66, 11. Mississippi State 81 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Notre Dame 82, 14. Southern Utah 56
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 3. Notre Dame 53, 11. Mississippi State 48

College Park, Maryland

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Arizona 75, 10. West Virginia 62
    • 2. Maryland 93, 15. Holy Cross 61
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Maryland 77, 7. Arizona 64


Bloomington, Indiana

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 1. Indiana 77, 16. Tennessee Tech 47 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Oklahoma State 61, 9. Miami 62 (FL)
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 1. Indiana vs. 9. Miami, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Villanova, Pennsylvania

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Washington State 63, 12. FGCU 74
    • 4. Villanova 76, 13. Cleveland State 59
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. FGCU vs. 4. Villanova, 7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 6. Michigan 71, 11. UNLV 59
    • 3. LSU 73, 14. Hawaii 50
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 6. Michigan vs. 3. LSU, 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Salt Lake City, Utah

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. N.C. State 63, 10. Princeton 64
    • 2. Utah 103, 15. Gardner-Webb 77
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Utah vs. 10. Princeton, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)


 Blacksburg, Virginia

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 58, 16. Chattanooga 33
    • 8. Southern California 57, 9. South Dakota State 62
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Virginia Tech 72, South Dakota State, 60

Knoxville, Tennessee

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Iowa State 73, 12. Toledo 80
    • 4. Tennessee 95, 13. Saint Louis 50
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 12. Toledo vs. 4. Tennessee, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Columbus, Ohio

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. North Carolina 61, 11. St. John’s  59 (First Four winner)
    • 3. Ohio State 80, 14. James Madison 66
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Ohio State vs. 6. North Carolina, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Storrs, Connecticut

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 7. Baylor 78, 10. Alabama 74
    • 2. UConn 95, 15. Vermont 52
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 2. UConn vs. 7. Baylor, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)


Stanford, California

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 1. Stanford 92, 16. Sacred Heart 49 (First Four winner)
    • 8. Ole Miss 71, 9. Gonzaga 48
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 1. Stanford vs. 8. Ole Miss, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Austin, Texas 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 5. Louisville 83, 12. Drake 81
    • 4. Texas 79, 13. East Carolina 40
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 4. Texas vs. 5. Louisville, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Durham, N.C. 

  • Round 1 — Saturday, March 18:
    • 6. Colorado 82, 11. Middle Tennessee State 60
    • 3. Duke 89, 14. Iona 49
  • Round 2 — Monday, March 20:
    • 3. Duke vs. Colorado, 9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)

Iowa City, Iowa 

  • Round 1 — Friday, March 17:
    • 7. Florida State 54, 10. Georgia 66
    • 2. Iowa 95, 15. Southeastern Louisiana 43
  • Round 2 — Sunday, March 19:
    • 2. Iowa 74, 10. Georgia 66

Regionals/Final Four schedule, how to watch

Sweet 16: Friday and Saturday, March 24-25; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Elite 8: Sunday and Monday, March 26-27; Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Greenville, S.C., host: Southern Conference and Furman; and Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, hosts: Seattle and Seattle Sports Commission

Final 4: Friday, March 31, 7 p.m. ET and 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

Championship Game: Sunday, April 2, 3 p.m. ET (ABC); American Airlines Center, Dallas; hosts: Big 12 Conference and Dallas Sports Commission

MORE FROM ON HER TURF: 2023 March Madness — All about the 32 automatic qualifiers