Athletics: End of an era as Edwards bids a tearful farewell

World Championships: Ankle injury ruins defence of triple jump title and ends an era for one of Britain's most remarkable competitors
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The Independent Online

Jonathan Edwards's illustrious 15-year career as a triple jumper came to an anti-climactic conclusion here at the World Championships last night as he scratched from the final after producing two efforts palpably below the sublime standards he has set for himself.

The 37-year-old world record holder denied afterwards that his withdrawal had been caused by any recurrence of the ankle injury he suffered just over a fortnight ago, an injury which he claimed last week had been "miraculously" healed in time for him to seek a final flourish in what he announced would be his last competition.

Instead, the decision came down to an inescapable fact ­ whatever it was that had motivated him to earn every honour the sport had to offer was simply absent. As this committed Christian would be the first to acknowledge, there are times when the Lord moves in mysterious ways.

"My leg was fine tonight," he said after producing two stuttering efforts of 14.06 metres and 16.31m which left him outside the top eight competitors who would proceed onwards to the final three rounds of jumping. "I just had nothing there. Going out after two rounds was the right thing to do because I was not competitive.

"I looked up at my wife Alison's face in the crowd and she had a big grin on her face. I just asked her because I was worried about people thinking, 'Oh, he's just given up'. But I couldn't beat Christian [Olsson], and there was no point in me struggling on to make the cut.

"I said on Friday that I wanted to go out with dignity and not on a stretcher. I'm not sure how I feel right now. I've felt strange all day, not sure whether to just enjoy it or try to be competitive."

His confused emotions registered on his face as he spoke to BBC viewers ­ smiles and tears, which he repeatedly wiped away, alternated.

"It just finished me off," Edwards said afterwards. "Just the crowd clapping. Incredible warmth. It really got to me. It's not been about how far I've jumped and how many medals I've won..."

The end of the Edwards era came not with a final, glorious plunge into the sand, but a brief conversation with an official while sitting on a bench in his tracksuit. With a rueful shake of his head, the Olympic and world champion conceded his status as a competitive athlete.

As Edwards came to terms with his new life, which will, in the short term, see him join the BBC commentary team here, Christian Olsson, the 23-year-old Swede who has denied him on the last two major occasions at the European Championships and World Indoor Championships, confirmed his status as the event's No 1 by claiming his first outdoor global title with his first round effort of 17.72m.

Olsson, who was selling programmes in the stand at the Gothenburg stadium when Edwards won his first world title in 1995 with the mark of 18.29m which still stands as the world record, still has a long way to go before he reaches the levels of performance this wiry former physics student regularly attained.

"I've had an incredible career," Edwards reflected. "Looking back from when it started at the English schools as an 18-year-old I never thought I would have the career I've had and I'm very thankful for that.

"I'm not sad. I'm a little bit overwhelmed, but I've had my time and it was great. I was reading Psalm 127 Verse 1 this morning: "Lest the Lord build the house, the labourers labour in vain."

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