Edwards leaps into the unknown

World Athletics Championships
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Jonathan Edwards, Britain's only defending world champion, takes what he describes as "a step into the dark" today as he attempts to qualify for Friday's triple jump final.

In response to the obvious question - was he fully recovered from the heel injury which has prevented him jumping for five weeks? - he replied: "I guess we'll find out tomorrow."

Edwards, who had delayed his arrival here until Monday night, appeared tense and cautious as he faced the press yesterday - as well he might. Since injuring himself at the European Cup, and exacerbating the problem at the Sheffield Grand Prix on 29 June, the 31-year-old world record holder has not managed a single triple jump.

He completed a few efforts off a short approach last week, which he said had not adversely affected him. But in boxing terms, he is a champ defending his belt without any sparring.

Before coming to Athens Edwards, whose leap of 17.74m at the European Cup leads this year's world rankings, adopted a fatalistic approach. "Right now I'm in cotton wool. Next month, I won't care about the pain. So what if I can't walk the next day?"

Things have improved since. Up to a point. "I am aware of my heel, but I am not in constant pain," said Edwards, who will wear protective cups inside his shoes today.

Perhaps protection for his psyche might be just as useful to him. "If you feel there is something wrong with you, it will carry on in your mind a lot longer than physically," he said yesterday. "You need competition to get confidence."

When he gets that today, he will be hoping for one good effort to see him through. Looking ahead to the final he named Kenny Harrison, the man who beat him in last year's Olympics, as the man to beat again. "At our bests I think Kenny Harrison and I are a reasonable bit ahead of the rest of the world."

But how close to his best will Edwards be? What is sure is that he approaches these championships in a very different frame of mind to those in Gothenburg two years ago. Then, with two stupendous, wind-assisted jumps behind him and a legal world record of 17.98, he was desperate to bear his talent through to the finals.

He succeeded beyond all expectation, with the first legal jump over 18 metres. Asked if he was confident about defending his title, he shied away from the word. "I feel very positive about it," he said. "I'm looking forward to it." It could mean anything.