Teddy Tamgho: Three steps to heaven

French triple-jumper has Edwards' record in his sights but first comes duel with Idowu
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The Independent Online

On the corridor wall just along from the gym in the Estadio Municipal Athletisma de Alicante hangs a poster advertising an international fixture that was held on the track outside in the summer of 1998. It features a small head shot of Jonathan Edwards, the Gateshead Harrier who stands out, head and shoulders, as the greatest ever exponent of the hop, step and jump.

Teddy Tamgho gives it no second glance en route to his afternoon weights session. At 21, the Parisian is third on the world all-time ranking list in the triple jump with the 17.98 metres he achieved at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York in June last year. Only Edwards, who was 29 when he broke through the 18m barrier and landed his Beamon-esque 18.29m at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg, and the American Kenny Harrison, who was 31 when he jumped 18.09m for Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996, have ever ventured further.

When Edwards used to pump iron in the gym at Gateshead Stadium, the rough-and-ready patrons would do their best to put him off, telling dirty jokes and pinning up page three of The Sun. The vicar's son would simply smile and pump up the volume of the iron. He weighed in at 11st 7lb but could bench-press 17st.

Tamgho, a similarly slender soul, is a picture of concentration as he goes about his marathon session in the Alicante track gym. His head is clamped by a huge set of earphones, which he removes only to take the occasional word of advice from the figure quietly directing operations.

Ivan Pedroso makes another adjustment to the weights at either end of the bar balanced at the back of his charge's shoulders. The bar wobbles at both ends but Tamgho remains steadfast. He is half-squatting 235kg – some 37st, a little over three times his 12st bodyweight.

Earlier in the day, sitting outside in the concrete stand, Tamgho said: "I need more power. That is one of the reasons why I came here." Directly opposite stands the home ground of Hercules CF, the Alicante club who are lifting up Spain's La Liga from 20th position.

Eyebrows were raised in France at the end of last summer when Tamgho announced that he would be uprooting from Paris (where he was born and raised by his Cameroonian mother, Alice, in the tough suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois) and relocating to the Spanish city where Gérard Depardieu and Alain Delon came to play Obelix and Julius Caesar in the shooting of Asterix at the Olympic Games, voted the worst French film of 2008.

After all, with a French coach and a French base, young Teddy managed to break through at global level in 2010, having won the world indoor title in Doha with a record distance of 17.90m and uncorked his mighty 17.98m in New York. But then Tamgho has always wanted to be more than just the bright young thing of the triple jump.

He made that much clear when he first crossed paths with Edwards at the European Indoor Championships in Turin in March 2009. "It was amazing for me to see Jonathan Edwards for the first time," Tamgho recalls. "I introduced myself and told him: 'I want to break your world record.' He said: 'Do you think you can?' I said: 'I am going to do everything I can to achieve it.'

"I think he was surprised. I did not have bad intentions in saying that to him. It was just the talk of a young boy with ambition."

At the time, Edwards had reason to be bemused; the would-be world record-breaker had just messed up in the qualifying round in Turin, failing to reach the final. Last year, though, Tamgho backed up his bold words in Doha and New York. And this year he has added a vital layer of consistency to his form, improving his world indoor record to 17.91m at the French Championships and following it up with two jumps of 17.92m at the European Indoor Championships in Paris four weeks ago.

"It shows the strength I have gained since coming here," Tamgho says. It also shows the shrewdness of his decision to seek guidance from Pedroso, the former long jumper from Cuba who won Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 and a quartet of world titles. After retiring, Pedroso settled near Alicante and married a Spaniard. He had not been involved in athletics as a coach, though, so how exactly did Tamgho come to hook up with the man from Havana?

"On Facebook," Tamgho says. "We got talking about the triple jump and the long jump. I have always been fascinated by the Cuban system in the jumps. We got together and we have been working in Alicante for five months now. Ivan has helped me with my strength and my power and my technique. He won everything as an athlete, so he can help me handle the nerves when it comes to the London Olympics."

When it comes to those 2012 Games, of course, Tamgho will be out to trump one of the two big home hopes for track-and-field gold. "I think she is going to win," Tamgho says when Jessica Ennis is mentioned. But what about Phillips Idowu, the 31-year-old Londoner who beat Tamgho to the European outdoor title in Barcelona last summer and who defends his outdoor world crown in Daegu, South Korea, in August?

"What about Phillips?" Tamgho ponders. "I won't tell you he is going to win, because I want to win too. We are good friends. Phillips has helped me. He has given me good advice. It is going to be very difficult for me to beat him. He will be in his home town and he is more experienced than me.

"I think it is going to be 50-50. I've got my marks – 17.92m indoors, 17.98m outdoors – but Phillips has got the titles. In the last two years he has won at the World Championships and the European Championships, each time with a personal record. He has jumped 17.81m now and I think in Daegu this summer and in London next year he will jump farther. He can jump 18m, if he gets his run-up right."

And what if Tamgho gets his own run-up right? How far can the young Frenchman fly? Close to Edwards' 18.29m? Or even beyond?

"First, I have to be the world champion," Tamgho says. "Then, I have to be the Olympic champion. After that, I can think about the world record." A three-step plan, you could call it – or a hop, a step, and a leap for a place in track-and-field history.