Enlightenment of Edwards

Ken Jones relives the near-golden moment of Britain's triple jump hero, and the leap of faith that gave him strength when his Atlanta dream was shattered
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The Independent Online
It turned out that Kenny Harrison won it early, and it did not matter, somehow. From the American's first record-breaking leap, everybody guessed that he was going to win the triple jump. What we wanted to know was, how about Jonathan Edwards and his busted quest for a gold medal.

Watching Edwards scramble out of the sand after again over-stepping the board, somebody said, "This is where he's got to show some real stuff". And maybe that was the truth of it.

At this point - two jumps and two fouls - the world record-holder and favourite was in danger of going out of the compe- tition. The expression on Edwards's face as he made his way back could be described as quizzical. "What's happened to my rhythm?", you could imagine him thinking. "Know what he'll do now?" a romantic said. "He'll jump past Harrison, put in a record jump." In Hollywood they would have done it that way, but this was Atlanta - the searching reality of Olympic struggle.

When it was time for him to jump again, Edwards's face was a picture of deep concentration. Oblivious to other activity in the Olympic stadium, deaf to the roar of the crowd, he rocked backwards and forth, eyes fixed on the runway. Then off, picking up speed, each stride in unison with the clapping, and at last putting in a legitimate effort.

If well short of the target Harrison had set with a leap of 17.99m, Edwards now had three more attempts at the gold. Just the same, he was keenly aware of the continuing difficulty. One of three Americans in the event, the Barcelona Olympic champion Mike Conley, thought Edwards looked scared. "I was really worried about you," he told Edwards afterwards.

With his fourth jump, Harrison went to 18.09m, further extending the Olympic record with the third-longest triple jump in history. And that was the last we would see of him.

Meanwhile, Edwards was trying to get himself together. "The last 24 hours have been very difficult," he would say afterwards. "It reached the point where I would happily have got on a plane and gone home. Then to foul twice - that was really tough.

"Since Gothenburg (last year's World Championships), there has been a lot of pressure on me. People expect me to win. I didn't win but I came very close to it." He was close, his jump of 17.88m pulling within reach of Harrison. "I just ran through the board," he said. "I jumped like I did last season. It was enlightening. I thought, 'Yeah. That's how I jump. I've discovered it again.'"

When Edwards's turn came up again, the crowd was still celebrating Gail Devers's success in the women's 100m, a roar going up when she paused on a victory lap, to be embraced by Harrison, her boyfriend.

Unaware of the commotion - "it didn't put me off at all" - Edwards sped at the board and almost leapt into history. Up went the dreaded flags. Another infringement. "It could only have been by about an inch, and if it had counted it was about 18.20 to 18.30 metres," he said. "I was just that much away from maybe taking the gold. But Kenny was jumping so well that he could have come back at me."

There was no consolation for Edwards in the fact that Harrison only got to jump as the result of intervention by the International Amateur Athletic Federation. In the US Olympic trials last month, he opted not to jump on after passing the qualifying standard, only to discover the effort was wind-assisted. Harrison only got in when the IAAF decreed he had achieved the qualifying mark in an indoor competition.

It did not enter Edwards's mind to raise this in subsequent conversations. "If my first jump had stood perhaps things would have been different," he said when sitting serenely under interrogation.

"I knew Kenny was going to jump a long way because he looked great from the start and wouldn't have been surprised to see him break my world record. But I felt I was capable of jumping as far, if not further."

The bomb that went off in Atlanta during the early hours of Saturday helped Edwards get things into perspective. "It didn't affect me mentally, but it was a shocking thing," he said.

Edwards considered his experience in the Olympic stadium to be a test of faith. "I had to rely even more on God, and as a result my relationship with him is much deeper for it."

On the morning of the event, Edwards turned to a passage in the Bible from the words of St Peter. "It said you go through distressing trials of the power of your faith which is more precious than gold. I've come out of this with something better than a gold medal because my faith has been proved through what happened."

Edwards was sitting at a table alongside the Cuban bronze medallist Yoelbi Quesada. In the circumstances, the smile on his face was impressive. The gold medallist, Harrison, had declined to put in an appearance, but in that interview room you knew what a true champion looked like.