Athletics: Edwards back in the form to make new mark

Triple jumper returns to the country where his assault on the world record began. Simon Turnbull reports from Valencia
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The Independent Online
IT WAS in Spain three years ago that Jonathan Edwards first hopped, stepped and jumped into the world record books. The scoreboard in the Estadio Javier Sotomayor in Salamanca flashed up the distance 17.98m and the beaming Briton was greeted by Mike Powell, the man who consigned Bob Beamon's long jump to history, with the words: "Welcome to the club."

Edwards returned to Spain last night with the intention of taking out another subscription to the world record breakers' club. The outdoor triple jump record remains in his name; a month after his trip to Salamanca he improved it to first 18.16m, then 18.29m, at the 1995 World Championships in Gothenburg. Now the spring-heeled Gateshead Harrier wants the indoor mark to complete a matching set of membership cards.

The indications are that he will get it here in Spain's third city in the 25th European Indoor Championships, which open this morning and run until Sunday. Having jumped 17.64m while suffering the after effects of flu to claim Keith Connor's antique British indoor best in Birmingham a fortnight ago, Edwards would appear to be within range of the 17.83m Aliecer Urrutia of Cuba achieved in Sindelfingen 11 months ago.

"The world record certainly isn't an unrealistic proposition," he said. "Hopefully I'm in 17.80m or 17.90m shape. I surprise myself with how far I jumped in Birmingham. It's given me a lot of confidence for this weekend."

If he achieved the landmark indoor distance of 18m it would be a strong indication that, at 31 and after two years of frustrated ambition, Edwards' best days may still lie ahead of him. Those who have pointed to his ground- breaking 1995 season as a fading peak have ignored the fact that his last-round jump at the Atlanta Olympics would probably have improved his world record - had he not strayed fractionally over the take-off board - and that his silver medal performance at the World Championships in Athens last summer came after six weeks out of action with an injured heel.

Edwards goes into the qualifying rounds tonight 40cm ahead of his closest rival on current form, Denis Kapustin of Russia. He is also the most likely Briton to strike Spanish gold in the Luis Puig Palacio de los Deportes but by no means the only sparkling prospect.

After two summers of silver-linings, in Atlanta and in Athens, the British team could return to the gold standard with a vengeance here in the city famously wrested from the Moors by El Cid and conquered by Gerry Armstrong, with his winning goal for Northern Ireland against the hosts, in the 1982 World Cup.

Jones spoke yesterday about the potential dawning of "a new golden era" and it is entirely possible that the five gold medals won by the British team in the 1994 championships in Paris could be matched by the 1998 squad. Like Edwards, Julian Golding (in the 200m) and Solomon Wariso (in the 400m) lead the rankings in their events, while Tony Jarrett (in the 60m hurdles) and Ashia Hansen (in the women's triple jump) are also potential golden shots.

The last two European Indoor Championships held in Spain featured international breakthroughs by two British all-time greats and the gifted Golding stands to make his mark in the steps of Sebastian Coe, 20-year-old winner of the 800m title in San Sebastian in 1977, and Linford Christie, surprise 200m champion in Madrid in 1986.

The strength the 23-year-old Blackheath Harrier has gained from following the advice of Frankie Fredericks - to train "like a 400m runner" - has been evident in the powerful surges that have taken him to impressive 200m wins in the AAA Championships, the Bupa Games and the Gaz de France meeting in Lievin on successive Sundays. The Golding boy starts as the man to beat in the 200m here.

So, in the 400m, does Wariso, whose last European challenge ended before it had even started. The Haringey sprinter was sent home from the outdoor championships in Helsinki four years ago when it was discovered he had been inadvertently powered by the banned stimulant ephedrine, derived from a herbal tonic given to him by team-mates.

Yesterday, Wariso drew strength from a different source as he spoke of his new career as a reluctant but thus far successful 400m runner. The doodle left behind on his notepad was the Superman sign.