Athletics: Gregorio the adopted Geordie

Brazilian triple jumper follows Edwards trail - to safety on the Tyne
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The Independent Online

It is Thursday lunchtime at the indoor track-and- field High Performance Centre at Gateshead International Stadium, and Jadel Gregorio is resting his giant frame next to the jumping pit. "Just like the Copacabana," someone suggests. The big Brazilian smiles. "Yes, but not the same weather," he says, pointing to the clouds outside.

Not that the 25-year-old triple jumper has any regrets about uprooting from his homeland last winter and moving to Tyneside. Quite the opposite. On the track-and-field circuit, his career is flourishing under the expert guidance of Peter Stanley, the civil engineer and part-time jumps coach who helped Jonathan Edwards to a trio of triple jump world records.

Gregorio won a silver medal at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow in March and stands joint third in the world outdoor rankings for 2006. He also has a Grand Prix victory to his name as a long jumper, having triumphed in his secondary event with an 8.05m leap at Gateshead last Sunday, relegating Chris Tomlinson, his training partner and proud holder of the British long jump record, to third place.

"I've been here eight months now and I think I stay for a long time," Gregorio says, in the partially broken but perfectly intelligible English he has picked up. "I enjoy training with Chris. He is a good guy. My coach is a good coach and a good friend too.

"In Brazil I split from my old coach and trained alone last year. I asked my manager to look for a new coach, and after the World Championships in Helsinki last year we spoke to Peter. In Brazil it was difficult for training. Now it's OK."

There were other difficulties back home in Sao Paulo. "Here, I feel safe in the street," Gregorio says. "In Sao Paulo it is not safe in many areas. Because many people don't have jobs, when they see your car they come with the guns and the hats pulled over their heads.

"When I first came over here in November my wife went out of the house in Sao Paulo to pay bills and two guys came on motorcycles and put guns to her head. They asked for her bag and took her money.

"She was pregnant for five months and water was running down her legs. She said, 'I think I lose my baby'. The guy said to her, 'Ssh! Ssh! Ssh! Open the car. Give me the money'.

"After this, my wife was in panic. She did not go out of the house. I said, 'Brazil is not a safe place to stay'. We are all together here now. We are all happy. I have good facilities here and I feel safe for my family. I think I stay a long time. I don't want an attack like this again."

Jadel and his wife, Samara, have settled into a house at Tyne View, on the riverside at Gateshead. Their son, Jade (pronounced Jaje in Portuguese) was born in the town's Queen Elizabeth Hospital on 17 April - a genuine Geordie Gregorio.

"I think it's amazing what Jadel has done," Stanley says. "He's changed his whole life. He's left family at home and made a fantastic commitment to come here.

"He works well together with Chris Tomlinson in training and they're great friends. He brings things to the training sessions that Chris hasn't learned yet. Chris is jumping well again now and Jadel is getting dividends. He broke the South American indoor record twice at the World Indoor Championships. So things are going well."

That much is obvious as the gargantuan Gregorio bounds over a row of closely spaced hurdles with a balletic deftness, if not quite the grace of a Nureyev. "Jadel's a completely different athlete to Jonathan," Stanley says, when the obvious comparison with his former triple jump charge is drawn. "Jadel's eight inches taller. He's 6ft 8in. And he's 17 stone [Edwards was 11st]. He should have been a heavyweight boxer. He's very good at kick-boxing, actually. He's very light on his feet, and he's got a lot of explosive power."

In his youth, Gregorio took classes in the Brazilian martial art of capoeira to keep him off the streets after school. His upbringing was rather different to that of Edwards, a vicar's son who attended private school in Somerset, and who rewrote the world record books after Stanley revamped his triple jump technique in the winter of 1994-95. The 18.29m that the Gateshead Harrier jumped at the World Championships in Gothenburg in 1995 stands unchallenged as the world record today, a fair step ahead of Gregorio's personal best, 17.73m.

"I have spoken to Jon-athan a few times since I came here," Gregorio says. "He is a good guy. He has helped me. When I first started training in the triple jump I looked at tapes of him and my dream was to be close to him. In my first competition in Europe, in Milan in 2002, I spoke to him and took a lot of pictures of him. Now I am closer to him. It is good for me - very good."

It could get better, too. The next competitions for the adopted Geordie are a long jump at the Athens Grand Prix meeting on 3 July and a triple jump in Lausanne on 11 July. His main aim for the summer, though - fittingly for a Brazilian - happens to be the World Cup. The quadrennial track-and-field World Cup takes place in Athens in September. The triple jump title is held by the Pele of the hop, step and jump: the peerless, now retired Edwards.