Edwards keeps a level head untold riches

Mike Rowbottom on the unassuming world champion who refuses to let fame change his outlook on life
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Donovan Bailey, Canada's new world 100 metres champion, wandered past the Hotel Opalen here yesterday morning and paused to shake the hand of an athlete surrounded by cameramen and autograph hunters. His arrival did absolutely nothing to alter the focus of attention. Jonathan Edwards, the world triple jump champion and world record holder, is now officially "A Star".

The morning after the night before, the 29-year-old Gateshead Harrier was coming to terms with everything his stupendous performance would mean to his life.

Edwards's schedule after his jump was as gruelling as any training session. After a round of television and newspaper interviews, he spent more than two hours in doping - where he passed the time by chatting to the world decathlon champion, Dan O'Brien. It was past midnight when he left the stadium, and, after finding both the athletes' canteen and the local McDonald's shut, he got something to eat at his kit sponsor's hotel before getting to bed around 2am.

Less than six hours later he was up again for a satellite television interview at the Gothenburg Opera House. And then a radio interview. And then a breakfast television interview. And then a television interview standing on a Viking ship. And then another breakfast television interview. And then . . .

And then there was the pounds 40,000 Mercedes sports car to pick up as a prize for winning the gold. And, inevitably, the prospect of greatly increased bonuses from his shoe sponsors and appearance fees on the European circuit.

While his competition schedule will continue to be organised by Andy Norman, the former BAF promotions officer, he has not yet appointed anyone as a commercial manager - although he has had many offers so far this season.

Did the prospect of riches, he was asked, conflict in any way with the Christian beliefs that are central to his life?

"I don't have a problem with making money. It's just my attitude towards it," he said, before slipping into a mode of speech that reminded you he has spent some time as a lay preacher and intends to follow that path again.

"Paul was writing a letter to Timothy in the Bible and said: 'Charge those that are rich not to become hard-minded or trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God who gives all things to be enjoyed.'

"I will enjoy this success and what I have, but I won't trust in it. I'll aim to be a good steward of what I've been given."

He plans to use what money he gains to secure the future of his family - his wife, Alison, and two young sons, Samuel and Nathan. Thereafter, he said, he would like to be able to buy his parents a house when his father retires as an Anglican minister near his childhood home in Ilfracombe, north Devon.

Beyond that, he added, he wanted to study theology at a Californian college, combining it with athletics, just as Kriss Akabusi, the British 400m hurdles record holder, did.

At this point, one member of the fourth estate began to shift uncomfortably in his seat. "You seem to be the perfect person," he asked. Edwards demurred. "Well, what do you do? Do you drink?" Edwards replied that he liked a glass of wine - "Well, thank God for that!" - and produced an appropriate Biblical quote: "God gives wine which maketh the heart of Man glad."

Edwards the man is increasingly a figure to compare with the late Eric Liddell, the Olympic 400 metres champion celebrated in the film Chariots of Fire, who, as Edwards briefly did himself, refused to compete on Sunday.

But to many of his opponents this season he has become a demoralising figure. Notably Mike Conley, the Olympic and former world champion, who was unable even to better 17 metres. "I think it is a shock to some people when they see a skinny-looking, very ordinary guy come along and almost decimate the event," Edwards said.

And yet he insists that his impact on the triple jump will have a predominantly positive, rather than negative, effect on other jumpers.

"Some people are so big in their event that they exude an aura, like Linford Christie, that almost makes other people back away from them. But the kind of person I am, people look at me and say: 'If he can do it, I can do it too.' I don't think I have any aura."

That is a judgement which is not backed up by the extraordinary response he generated from the crowd. Or from the two young boys who left the Ullevi stadium practising hop, step and jumps.

Edwards's achievement here has sent shock waves through the event. Willie Banks, the American who held the record for 10 years before Edwards broke it last month, responded with a verve which typified his career: "Holy Mackerel! The little devil!"

Jerome Romain, the bronze medallist, drew satisfaction from being involved in a special moment for athletics. "This triple jump competition is going to go down in history," he said. "I'm not the main character in the story but at least I'm part of it."

Brian Wellman, the silver medallist, felt that Edwards's efforts would help to open up the event as more people followed him beyond 18 metres.

"I don't feel that physically I'm right on the edge of what I am capable of," Edwards said. Asked if he felt 18.50m was a possibility, he replied equably: "Yeah."

Edwards will have to get used to his new status within the world. But it still appears baffling to him when he reflects upon where he now finds himself.

"I'm amazed at how I've done certain things considering my character," he said. "You hear about people like Sebastian Coe planning their careers from day one. It's never been like that for me."

But his plans now extend to the next Olympics - and beyond, to the Sydney Olympics of 2000. As someone pointed out, if his shoe sponsors had to shell out a bonus every time he set a world record, they could be broke by then.

Edwards, one of the most personable characters you could ever meet, laughed at the line. But while he plans, he does not depend upon a career which is, in his own phrase, simply a matter of "jumping into a sand pit".

"If I never come within half a metre of what I've done I can have no complaints," he said. "My life has been fantastic. I can only be thankful. I've had more in this life than I could have ever asked for, ever hoped for or ever deserved."

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE TRIPLE JUMP

Jonathan Edwards takes his place in the triple jump alongside two others who have broken the world record twice on the same day.

Viktor Saneyev, of Russia, did so to win the 1968 Olympic title, and Adhemar Ferreira da Silva, of Brazil, who watched Edwards from the stands on Tuesday night, did so to secure the 1952 Olympic title. Neither managed the feat in successive jumps, as Edwards did.

Triple jumping does not have its roots in the ancient Greek Olympics, but in a tradition of border games in Britain and Ireland going back to the 14th century.

In those days, the event consisted of two hops and a jump, rather than its present configuration of a hop, a step and a jump.

The earliest records of the triple jump as it now exists are from professionals taking part in the Scottish border games. Andrew Beattie is credited with the first record, converted to 12.95 metres, on 17 March, 1826.

The first amateur record stands to Hammer Webb, who jumped 12.19m at Cheltenham on 30 April 30, 1856 - a distance corresponding to 40ft and a quarter of an inch - 20 feet less than Edwards managed two days ago.

The first officially recognised International Amateur Athletic world record was that of Daniel Ahearn, who jumped 15.52m in New York on 30 May, 1911.

Comments