Athletics: Davies landmark the way forward

Who's who for 2002: Chris Tomlinson: Long jumper aiming high
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chris Tomlinson's first ambition in athletics was to become the next Jonathan Edwards. "I started triple jumping as a result of Jonathan jumping his 18.29-metre world record back in 1995," he recalled. "I was one of those kids who said, 'I'll have a go at that'." Six years on, Tomlinson is a training partner of Edwards, the world's greatest-ever triple jumper. The young Teessider, how-ever, is following more closely in the footsteps of another legendary British jumper.

Whether Tomlinson becomes the next Lynn Davies remains to be seen. Many a talented young long jumper has emerged with potential pointing towards the 8.23m mark, the ancient British record distance "Lynn the Leap" achieved in Berne on 30 June 1968. None has got close, though Tomlinson got to within four centimetres in an international A team match between Britain and France at Ashford in August – albeit with the assistance of a 4.5m-per-second following wind, more than twice the strength permissible for official recognition.

Still, Tomlinson has jumped the second-longest distance ever by a British athlete, with or without the assistance of natural forces. His 8.19m is one centimetre further than the second best jump of Davies' career, which the 1964 Olympic champion recorded at altitude in Bloemfontein, South Africa in 1966.

At the very least, it shows Tomlinson has the ability to threaten the oldest record in the British track-and-field book, although the same could be said of Nathan Morgan, who has been plagued by injury since jumping 8.11m in 1998, and of Jonathan Moore, the 17-year-old son of former British triple jump record- holder Aston Moore, who won the world youth triple jump title last summer and topped the British senior long jump rankings with a "legal" 7.98m – ahead of Morgan's 7.97m and Tomlinson's 7.87m.

The teenager clearly has youth on his side, but Tomlinson, even at 20, could possibly have the greater room for improvement. He turned to long jumping only in 1999, when a foot injury stopped him from triple jumping, and by his own admission his technique is still on the raw side of basic. A gangly 6ft 6in, the young Middlesbrough man has yet to gain the all-round strength and co-ordination to make the most of his natural talent.

"I'm trying not to think about 8.23m and the British record," Tomlinson said, "because that's been hung around Nathan's neck for the past few years and maybe that hasn't helped him. It's a race to see who gets there first, I suppose, but I wouldn't like to say where I stand with regard to Nathan, Jonathan Moore or anyone else – and there are a lot of other talented young jumpers coming through who could pull out a Bob Beamon and go over the record. As far as I am concerned, my biggest competitor is myself.

"I need to compete against myself and my technique. I've got to focus on getting my technical problems sorted out, so that I can get the best out of myself. Once I iron out my technique I'm confident that I can go further. When I did that 8.19m jump a lot of people said, 'Oh, well, it was windy'. It was windy, but that's made me want to show them that I can jump over 8m without the wind. It's given me a lot to go for, I think."

Not that anyone could have dismissed Tomlinson's Ashford leap as a one-off. He did, after all, finish second to the Russian Danila Burkenya at the European Cup final in Bremen in June. It was the highest-ever placing by a British long jumper in the competition and it was followed by a victory for Edwards in the triple jump the next day, making it a memorable weekend for Peter Stanley, the Tyneside jumps coach who guides both men.

"I don't train with Jonathan all the time," Tomlinson said, "but when I do it's such a good learning experience. You can look at him and say, 'Well, this is what it takes to become a world record holder'."

Only time will tell whether Tomlinson has what it takes to become a British record holder. In the meantime, Lynn Davies is getting ready for life as a sexagenarian. He will be 60 in May next year.