12 The Daily Telegraph Friday 7 August 2020 *** Sport Jumping into history Athletics Exclusive interview Edwards quantum leap still the benchmark 25 years on By Oliver Brown architect of a feat that stood comparison with Bob Beamon’s 8.90m long jump in 1968 as a quantum shift for his event. The scrutiny grew more intrusive but, as he recalls: “I had been prepared, through the whole ‘not jumping on a Sunday’ thing.” Edwards, who has since relinquished his faith, was in the early Nineties a man of such strict religious observance that he gave up a world championship place in 1991 out of his refusal to compete on a Sunday, convinced that it had to be kept as a time for reflection and worship. It was a rule he would relax, to immediate effect, winning a bronze at the 1993 worlds in Stuttgart before a prolonged bout of EpsteinBarr virus laid him low. Edwards missed almost the entire 1994 campaign, begging the question of how he re-emerged as a world-beater with such stunning impact. The answer, he explains, lies in the depth with which he drilled down into his technical shortcomings. “Up to that point, I had been trying to copy a Bulgarian jumper, Khristo Markov. He had this alternate arm movement, with a big windmill-style motion through the hop. But I knew I was more of a speed jumper than a power jumper, so I started looking instead at Mike Conley, the Olympic champion in ’92. He had this double arm action, which, when I tried it, put me in a different position through the phases. It also meant that I didn’t over-rotate. Bringing my arms back brought back my centre of gravity, so that I was much more balanced. And crucially, I was able to use the speed.” Edwards, who could run 100m in under 10.5 seconds at his best, was dazzlingly quick as he approached the take-off board. Over short bursts in training, he held his own with Linford Christie. At the European Cup in Lille in June 1995, that raw acceleration, combined with the new-found adjustments in his form, propelled him to the unheard-of extreme of 18.43m. Sadly, the reading was struck out, the wind having been marginally above the legal limit, but Edwards maintains it was his most immaculate demonstration of technique. “Had I combined my speed and adrenalin in Gothenburg with my technique in Lille, I think I could have jumped 18.70,” he says. “I look at Lille now and it just makes me smile. I’m just so well balanced. Until then, I had been a 17.50 triple jumper. Then, I almost jumped 18.50.” Over dinner that evening, Edwards’s entire body went into spasm, leaving him fearing he was “going to die in a small ball of pain”. He never established for certain whether it was dehydration or simply the fact that he had taken the human body into uncharted territory. Either way, he was somehow able to take it there again. No sooner had he broken Willie Banks’s decade-old world record in Salamanca than he carried the burden of his own expectations to Gothenburg. “I genuinely felt that not winning the world title would make the season a failure. That was my mindset going into it. The first jump was full of fear, adrenalin and eventually relief. Usually, once I put a mark down that I know everybody has to beat, the motivation isn’t there. But the second time, I thought, ‘Conditions are great, I’m in great shape, I’m just going to enjoy this jump.’” In one electrifying blur, Edwards set a standard that has endured for a quarter of a century. It is a distinction even he struggles to comprehend. “I sometimes say to myself, ‘You did this thing that you had chosen better than anyone else ever.’ It’s a crazy thing to be able to say. And it brings a huge smile to my face.” Edwards can afford to settle for a less arduous pace these days, channelling his competitive energies into cycling in the Lake District, while juggling commentating stints and a consulting role for Paris 2024. At the height of his mid-Nineties fame, he rapidly found that the exposure grated. “When I went back to Tallahassee to train,” he says, “I remember what a freeing experience for no one to recognise me.” His Olympic performances proved a drama in two acts, with the frustration of a silver in 1996 followed by the catharsis of the gold his gifts demanded in Sydney four years later. He does not hide the fact, however, that it is the world record about which he feels most proprietorial. American Christian Taylor, now the triple jump’s dominant practitioner, has come within 8cm, but still Edwards stays tantalisingly out of reach. “Maybe the 25-year anniversary will be a cut-off and I won’t mind after that,” he laughs. “It’s even more special than the Olympic gold. I just floated over the ground in ’95. I’m not sure anybody has jumped like it since.” A long illness provided time to study the best in triple jump and a tweak in technique turned the Briton into a world-beater Still proud: Jonathan Edwards produced two world record jumps in winning the World Championship gold medal in 1995. H e skims along the runway like a smoothed pebble flicked across a millpond, each transition barely feathering the surface. The triple jump can be an ungainly discipline, lacking in rhythm and conveying a cruelly elongated agony, but Jonathan Edwards makes it look beautiful. Finally, in the golden glow of a Swedish summer’s afternoon, he reaches what he calls his “state of grace”. Already he has leapt further than his peers could dream, recasting his event’s history by breaking the elusive 18-metre barrier with his first attempt, but Edwards wants more. Starting his run-up, he bows his head, wags his finger and smiles. By the time he explodes in the sandpit roughly seven seconds later, he simply steps back, shrugs nonchalantly and surveys his masterpiece. The scoreboard soon confirms he has every right to look euphoric. Edwards’s effort is measured at 18.29m, eclipsing his opening salvo of 18.16 and a full 32cm beyond where anybody has gone before. He kisses the Gothenburg track in gratitude, a moment that will define the rest of his life. For as he toasts its 25th anniversary today, his mark has yet to be surpassed, cementing him as the only British world record-holder left standing in track and field. “It was a unique jump in my career, in that I didn’t really feel the pressure,” Edwards says. “When I landed in the pit, I knew it was a world record. Shrugging my shoulders was a case of, ‘That’s it, I’ve done it again.’ There was a moment in the step phase when I knew I just had to wait before I went into the jump. That told me it was even better than the previous one.” Even before he went to bed that night, he had become, at the relatively advanced age of 29, the sensation of his sport. As he went through anti-doping protocols, the details of his achievement were all that Dan Mayer, world decathlon champion, wanted to know. Then a devout Christian, Edwards would later divulge a sensation that his life was assuming biblical dimensions. An unassuming soul from a quiet Devon town was now the On his world record It was a unique jump. As I landed, I knew it was a world record the
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