Ease and unease for Edwards

Mike Rowbottom sees the world record holder soar into the triple jump final
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The Independent Online
JONATHAN EDWARDS'S opening triple jump of these world championships - the only one he required to reach tomorrow's final - was composed of four elements rather than the traditional three. Hop. Step. Jump. Celebrate.

Britain's newest world record holder did not even look back at his mark in the sand before standing and smiling with arms aloft as applause swirled through the stadium.

His distance of 17.46 metres was comfortably over the qualifying mark of 17.10, and eventually stood as the second furthest of the day behind the 17.48 achieved by Jerome Romain of the Dominican Republic. All that remained for Edwards to do was zip up his tracksuit, pop his blue cap on his head and leave the others to it. Which he did.

But the ease of his performance concealed a significant sense of unease. On Friday morning this gentle soul had been involved in a frantic and cumbersome press conference organised by his shoe company, which had left him in a less than ideal state of preparation. "I got pushed and jostled," he said. "I found it quite upsetting."

He confessed that the awful possibility of failing to qualify had crossed his mind on occasions, accompanied by memories of previous falls from grace such as Steve Backley's non-qualification for the 1991 world javelin final. "I was very aware of it," he said. "No one has an automatic right to a place in the final. There has been tension and expectation for me here like I've never experienced before.

"Sometimes I feel like I'm going to jump 19 metres. Sometimes I feel I'm going to jump 10 centimetres. Sometimes I just wish I was back at home."

Edwards gave himself a better chance of avoiding ignominy by setting his run-up marker back so that he jumped from around 10 centimetres behind the take-off board. Even in those circumstances, the jump he produced was two centimetres further than he had ever jumped legally before this season - a measure of the advance he has made in the past two months.

Although he failed to improve upon his biggest (wind-assisted) jump of 18.43 metres when he competed in the thin air of Sestriere last weekend, he felt that the exercise had achieved its purpose. "The runway was too springy for me to control," he said. "But it was the distraction I needed."

As he stepped out in bright sunshine yesterday, making his way back to the athletes' village, he looked a relieved man. Later in the day, he heard that the IAAF had ratified the world record of 17.98 metres that he set in Salamanca last month.

If he can get in a good, solid, early effort tomorrow afternoon it could be a short-lived mark. But another record is not the main thing on his mind. After missing the 1991 world championships because he would not compete on a Sunday, and after taking bronze at the 1993 world championships, he must feel that his time has finally come.