07 August 2020 08:40
Last updated on.From the section Athletics Jonathan Edwards: One Giant Leap Saturday 8 August, BBC Two, 17:30 BST and then available on BBC iPlayer Jonathan Edwards hadn't yet touched the sand, but he already knew. "There was a moment during my step phase when I just had to wait to put my foot down and take the next landing - in that instant I knew it was better," he tells BBC Sport. That millisecond of certainty has now stretched into a quarter of a century of supremacy. Friday marks 25 years since Edwards took one giant 18.29m triple jump leap at the World Championship in Gothenburg's Ullevi Stadium. The rest of mankind is still trying to catch up.
"I look back on it now and it is almost other worldly. It is almost like it happened to someone else," he adds. Edwards' world record has stood for longer than the legendary long jump world record - set by Bob Beamon at the 1968 Olympics and eventually overhauled by Mike Powell in 1991. But while Beamon's came out of thin air - achieved in high altitude Mexico City and with little warning in his previous form - Edwards had arrived in Sweden expecting something special. Six weeks before the 1995 World Championships, he had shocked the world in Lille.
To a backing of gasps from crowd and commentators alike, he had flown out to 18.43m - nearly half a metre in excess of Willie Banks' world record of 17.97m. That extraordinary number could not pass into the record books, invalidated by a 2.4 metres per second tailwind, marginally over the limit. Edwards' performances in 1995 brought hitherto unseen attention to the triple jump But it moved Edwards, whose personal best at the start of the season was just 17.44m, into a different league. "I went from being a 17:50 jumper to 18:50 jumper in one afternoon. I recall coming back to sit among my competitors and they were looking at me in disbelief," he remembers. By the time he arrived in Gothenburg, Edwards had claimed Banks' world record with an improvement of 1cm to 17.98m. The markers he was measuring himself by were no longer mortal though. The world's first legal jump beyond 18m was his metric goal. But he also had a target in imperial old money: 60ft - or 18.29m. He achieved his first aim with his first jump, leaping out beyond the end of the pit-side measuring board to 18.16m. With world gold effectively sealed, his own world record improved and the competition just minutes old, Edwards was free to have some fun. "Normally when I put in a big jump that is likely to win a competition I lose a little bit of my edge, a little bit of adrenalin," he recalls. "But this time I didn't. "I was in brilliant shape at a World Championships in perfect conditions and a crowd right behind me. It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and, when I look back now, I never had another day like that, athletically. "If you see the look on my face before I take the second jump, there is a little smile, me saying to myself: 'Let's see what you can do here.'" There is another telling look on his face as he picked himself out of the pit at the other end of the runway. Arms raised aloft, Edwards took a look at the dent in the sand below and almost in disbelief shook his head. "When I landed in the pit, I knew it was another world record. It was as simple as that," he says. "I didn't need them to measure it, I didn't need to look at a replay - I just knew it was further. "When 18.29m came up, I had done my research. I knew I had done both 18m and 60ft in the same day, in the space of 10 minutes." The ease with which Edwards had pushed back the event's boundaries thrust triple jump to the fore. Edwards poses with American sprinter Gwen Torrance after winning their World Athlete of the Year awards Edwards' press conference drew more reporters than Donovan Bailey had attracted winning 100m gold the previous evening. When the annual sporting awards were handed out he was named World Athlete of the Year, despite Ethiopian distance great Haile Gebrselassie's stellar year, and BBC Sports Personality of the Year, ahead of newly crowned heavyweight world champion Frank Bruno. The best athlete in the world, the best sportsperson in the country, but not top dog in his hometown. "The only one I didn't get was the one voted for by Evening Chronicle, who chose Les Ferdinand as Newcastle's sportsperson of the year," laughs Edwards, who lives in Gosforth. "It was the glory days of Kevin Keegan's time in charge and everything is second to football here." For the rest of his career, like the Magpies, Edwards was forever chasing those heady days. He was stronger and faster in subsequent seasons, but couldn't piece together the technique to translate it into similar distances. The current generation of jumpers have come closest. Reigning world and Olympic champion Christian Taylor's personal best is 18:21m. Fellow American Will Claye registered a 18.14m jump last year. Portugal's Pedro Pablo Pichardo is fifth on the all-time list and the youngest of the trio at 27 years old. "Who knows?" says Edwards when asked if his record is under serious threat. "The three of them are good, and perhaps the competition they provide each other could push them on. "But is nice they have given me 25 years! It is a nice milestone. I think I could let the record go much more graciously now." He 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 on Friday, 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, the 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 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 Epstein-Barr 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.