Given that we’ve recently reached a milestone in the build up to next year’s spectacle I thought it only appropriate that this week’s instalment feature one of London’s own.
If you’ve managed to get this far (i.e. past the subject line), presumably you have done so out of morbid curiosity, despite your fears that this article might centre on the depressingly popular phenomenon and indictment of both the modern youth’s taste in music and British celebrity culture in general – the twin Irish pop duo of John and Edward Grimes (together, “Jedward”). You will be relieved to know that the subject is in fact former triple jump superstar Jonathan Edwards.
Jonathan’s background lacks the challenging macroeconomic backdrop and intrafamily instability that have beset numerous individuals ofSIOM features past. His story is nevertheless inspiring from the perspective of perseverance and to challenge the notion that one need choose between family and sporting immortality (in the tradition of Kim Clijsters and Roger Fedwarder, for example).
Edwards was born in May 1966 in London. He attended West Buckland School (near Devon) where his potential for triple jump was spotted at an early age and nurtured through to University level. He competed for Durham University in the 1987 World University Games, coming ninth. He then failed to qualify for the final of the 1988 Games in Seoul before coming third in the World Cup, cementing his status as Britain’s best triple jumper with a leap of 17.28m.
Jonathan progressed steadily in the years that followed, earning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1992 (despite nursing an injured right ankle), a feat that he repeated at the Commonwealth Games two years subsequently, together with a gold medal at the 1992 World Cup (which somewhat compensated for his second failure to qualify for a Games final, this time in Barcelona, and a disappointing sixth place at the 1994 European Championships).
In summary, while he had improved his personal best on numerous occasions up to the 1995 season, and opened that season with a leap of 17.58m (40cm short of the then world record, which had stood for ten years), there was little to suggest that he would soon become untouchable. Few foresaw the formidable package that his speed on the runway (he subsequently claimed that he was faster than Linford Christie over 20m, and would go on to record a personal best of 10.48 seconds in the 100m a year later) and pure jumping ability (he recorded 7.41m in the long jump in 1992) would represent.
At the 1995 European Cup he stamped his authority on the event, and no doubt struck fear in the hearts of those who dared to compete against him thereafter, with a jump of over 18 metres. Well over 18 metres. 43 centimetres over 18 metres, in fact. This game-changingly formidable effort was unfortunately ineligible for world record purposes (despite shattering the existing mark by almost 50cm) due to wind assistance. He nevertheless took the gold medal and, with it, a significant psychological advantage going forward.
At the World Championships later that year, no psychological advantage was needed, for he did not need others to fail in order to succeed:
The following year he got back on the Olympic horse for a third time. He not only qualified for his first Olympic final at the Atlanta Games, but carried the “favourite” tag. Such was his dominance that a gold medal seemed inevitable. Kenny Harrison of the USA threw down the gauntlet with a first jump of 17.99m. Edwards then leapt over 18m, disallowed as his toes crept over the starting board. Harrison’s third jump proved decisive:
Harrison remains the only person other than Edwards to record a legal jump of over 18m. Unfortunately for Edwards and the British public, he had saved this performance for the world’s greatest athletic stage. Jonathan’s best effort of 17.88m remains the furthest ever jump not to win a gold medal.
Edwards entered the Sydney Arena at the 2000 Games with a wealth of experience but an age disadvantage. At 34 years old, this was surely his last chance at Olympic gold and a longer shot than his Atlanta opportunity (since which he had fathered two children). He was favourite and world number 1 but had not won a world title since his double record breaking effort in 1995. His mother in law died just days before the Games and he was in two minds as to whether or not to compete at all.
In the qualifying rounds, he posted 17.08m (fourth place) with compatriots Onochie Achike and Phillips Idowu leading the field. And so on to the final:
Finally, redemption. A testament to perseverance and courage from an individual whose upbringing was not entirely dissimilar to that of many on this mailing list.
Edwards, however, was not quite finished. In 2002, he completed his set of major international titles by adding a Commonwealth Games gold to his European, Olympic and World titles.
Jonathan continues to commentate on the BBC and is a member of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games. And so we have gone full circle.
PS> I’m off to Seinfeld tonight and couldn’t resist including this: