Commonwealth Games 2014: Phillips Idowu shows no sign of returning to his best

Triple jumper finishes fifth in attempt to exorcise his London misery
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The Independent Online

The last time Phillips Idowu made the headlines it was for a drink-driving ban. Less a case of hop, skip and jump, more cop, hick and for the high jump.

But the man who once described himself as jumping in a sandpit for a living was back to what he knows best in his first major competition since London 2012. The only problem was that he wasn't anywhere near his best, the Londoner finishing fifth, a disappointing account for an athlete ranked second this year in the field.

Even if he had finished in the medals, this would not have meant that Idowu was back in the big time; after all he claims simply to be "winging it" on his return. The fact is that his best attempt of 16.53m at the Olympics was not enough for him to make it to the final, but it was better by eight centimetres than what he achieved in Glasgow, one legal jump amid a myriad of fouls as South Africa's Khotso Mokoena won gold.

This had been billed as the chance for a first major medal for Idowu since his silver at the 2011 World Championships, after he had taken time out following the massive disappointment of faltering at his home Games.

Hackney born and bred, London 2012 was the biggest moment of his career, a chance to shine on his very own doorstep. His body had other ideas, and a neural problem in his hip and back meant that he was some way short of his best when he took the runway in the capital. He wanted to make Hackney proud; instead he felt that he had let everyone down.

So a break proved a necessity and involved a stint on Celebrity Masterchef, when he cooked crocodile among other ingredients. He remarked that cooking on camera and the triple jump were "worlds apart".

There were none of the usual antics last night in what was a chance for redemption on home soil. The hair was jet-black, the trademark headband, wristbands and long socks bright white, although the facial piercings remain in abundance. But also missing were the jumps of 17.50m he used to land so consistently and convincingly.

Idowu has never appeared entirely happy in his own skin, and with good reason. The Hackney of his youth was one of crack dens and stepping over burnt spoons and used syringes just to get to the front door of the Beauvoir Estate. Even the walk to his primary school was deemed too dangerous without a chaperone.

Growing up, he had a love-hate relationship with athletics, almost quitting it because of the sacrifices it entailed. He gave it one more go and was duly rewarded with world, European and Commonwealth gold, the Olympic title the only one to have eluded him.

At 35 years old, Rio de Janeiro is surely a pipe dream. The next step arguably is a return to National Lottery funding. In October, having announced his decision to take a break from the sport, he was removed from Lottery funding. In the same month he was banned from driving his Land Rover for two years and ordered to pay a fine.

Slowly and behind the scenes he returned to competition in Australia under a new coach, Gary Bourne. There have been none of the spats of his original tenure in the triple jump, although that has coincided with the departure of his former head coach, Charles van Commenee, who labelled him the invisible man. Inside Hampden Park, he was visible once more.

The big question is: what next? What he does know is that he will be at the European Championships in Zurich this month, for what will be his second appearance in 2014 in a Great Britain jersey, having finished fifth at the European Team Championships in June.

What happens there may play a big part in what future lies in store for Idowu. The athlete, who once sold hot dogs as a child outside Leyton Orient's stadium, has never been one to enjoy jumping in the rain. On the road back to the triple jump, and having seen in training and other competitions what he called "flashes of his best", he will simply be hoping that this is a one‑off blip in his hop, skip and jump.