Athletics: Edwards ready to make his final leap

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Edwards's athletics career, which he has described in recent years as a "Long Goodbye", yesterday resolved itself into a farewell. At 37, the man who launched triple jumping into a new trajectory has decided that the World Championships which start today will be his last competition.

Despite making what he calls a miraculous recovery - a term this committed Christian is not likely to use lightly - from his traumatic ankle injury at the Crystal Palace meeting a fortnight yesterday, Edwards is convinced this is the right time to step away from an arena which has seen him win every possible honour.

Five months after the retirement of one towering talent in the shape of double world 110m hurdles champion Colin Jackson, British athletics now faces the exit of a competitor who, this time last year, could call himself Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth champion as well as being the world record holder.

All the elements we have come to expect of an Edwards statement over the years were present yesterday - which meant, naturally, a quotation from the Good Book. "You all know I like to quote my verses from The Bible, and I wouldn't like to disappoint you," he said. "Proverb 16, Verse 9 says: 'A man devises a plan in his heart, but God directs his path.'

"Man devises a plan in his heart - and I had a plan while I was a competitor to carry on to the Olympics. But God directs his path - and so I think now is probably the time to stop and I will jump here and that will be the end of my career." At the last word, his throat seemed to tighten momentarily.

"It's quite an emotional moment really," he added, to the background of a battery of camera shutters. "But that's what I feel I should do. I don't want to say too much because I've still got a job to do over the next two days. But Paris will be the end."

Explaining how he had arrived at his current position, Edwards reflected upon his initial reaction after he had crash-landed a fortnight earlier.

"As I lay in the pit, I thought I'd broken my ankle or at the very least ruptured my ligaments and tendons.

"I remember the doctor telling me that I had to start every hour through the night by icing it to make sure the swelling didn't get too great. I was looking at her, thinking: 'You must be mad. If you think at 37 that I'm going to get up every hour through the night to ice my ankle - hey, my career's over here. This is the end.

"And then over the next few days something quite miraculous happened in that my ankle wasn't really badly hurt. When things like that happen it makes you think, 'maybe it's a sign'."

He admitted that his recovery could just as readily be interpreted as a sign that he should carry on until the Olympics. "Several people have said this. All I can say is that, when I thought on my circumstances over the last couple of weeks, I felt very sure that this is the right thing to do. I've always had that 'shall I, shan't I?' But having made the decision I felt very peaceful about it.

"I've actually been in great shape this whole year but I haven't lived, I haven't trained, I haven't thought as an athlete.

"None the less coming here to the World Championships I get that excitement, and I'll miss it. I'm the best in the world at what I do. I'll never have that again."

Asked why he hadn't made his announcement after competing, he replied: "I felt I had an opportunity to announce my retirement in a calm, measured way rather than it being something that's forced upon me through circumstances."

In the space of the last year, the balance of power appears to have shifted in Edwards's event. Christian Olsson, the young Swede, has beaten him to the European and world indoor titles. In the meantime, Edwards has developed his TV career, fronting a regular sports programme on a local network, hosting the occasional Songs of Praise, and making a well received documentary about St Paul. He is also due to commentate here for the BBC, confirming his status as a man betwixt and between two worlds.

By rights, there should have been a man with a placard outside the Cité Universitaire reading: "The End Is Nigh." Instead, Edwards provided his own concise summary of the situation: "Here endeth my career."

Edwards' medal haul

1990 Commonwealth Games: Silver

1993 World Championships: Silver

1994 Commonwealth Games: Silver

1995 World Championships: Gold - sets a new world record in his first two jumps recording 18.16m and 18.29m

1996 Olympic Games: Silver

1997 World Championships: Silver

1998 European Championships: Gold (17.99m)

1999 World Championships: Silver

2000 Olympic Games: Gold (17.71m)

2002 World Championships: Gold (17.92m)

2002 Commonwealth Games: Gold 17.86m). European Championships: Bronze