Olsson fired by new rivals and a distant memory

Triple-jump veteran rejoins Idowu and Tamgho in race to follow a legend over the magical 18-metre mark
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The Independent Online

Fifteen years ago, Christian Olsson first watched an 18m triple jump. "Yeah," the affable Swede said, casting his mind back to the afternoon of 7 August, 1995, "I was sitting about 15 rows up in the stand, just above the 18m mark."

As a 15-year-old programme seller at the World Championships in Gothenburg, Olsson had finished his duties for the day just in time to get a perfect view of Jonathan Edwards venturing into world record territory. Not once, but twice, during the course of the final, the Gateshead Harrier broke the sand at world record distances, jumping 18.16m in the first round and 18.29m in the second.

"It would be a memory for a lifetime," Olsson mused, "even if I hadn't become a triple jumper and come up against Edwards. It was such an atmosphere ... and the way he did it ... twice in the same competition ... the whole arena just exploded."

Back in 1995, when the World Championships came to his home town, Olsson was an emerging teenage high jumper, a member of the local Orgryte club. He went on to win the European Junior Championship title in 1999 but then turned his attention to the hop, step and jump – and to following in Edwards's footsteps.

In 2001, he took the silver medal behind the Briton at the World Championships in Edmonton but, in 2002, he beat him to the European title in Munich and then succeeded him as the world champion in Paris the following year, after which Edwards finally hung up his spikes.

In Athens in 2004, Olsson claimed Edwards's Olympic crown. At 24, the Gothenburger seemed poised to become the Harry Lime of the triple jump: the third man, after Edwards and the American Kenny Harrison, to venture beyond 18m.

Six years on, Olsson is still short of the mark. His best jumps, 17.83m indoors and 17.79m outdoors, were set back in 2004. Now 30, the 6ft 4in Swede is on the comeback trail again following yet another of the injuries that have hamstrung his triple-jumping career. Last week, he missed the European Championships in Barcelona but last night he was jumping in the DN Galan meeting here in the Swedish capital.

Next Friday, he competes in the Aviva London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace – against Phillips Idowu, the 31-year-old Briton who prevailed in Barcelona, adding the European title to the World Championship crown he captured in Berlin last summer, and Teddy Tamgho, the 21-year-old Frenchman who broke the world indoor record in March and who jumped a whopping 17.98m at the New York Diamond League meeting in June.

So who will become the third man to triple jump through the 18m barrier: Olsson, Idowu or Tamgho?

"I think I'd be the least likely of the three of us right now," Olsson pondered. "I'd say Teddy. I think he could still do it this season if he can come back and still wants a little bit of ... not revenge, but if he is ready for a rematch of the European Championships. I think he can do it. I don't think Phillips will do it because he's too satisfied with winning the European Championships. If anybody's going to do it now, it's going to be Teddy.

"After the qualification round in Barcelona, I was expecting him to jump 18m in the final there. He jumped 17.37m landing standing straight up in qualifying but just 5cm further in the final. I think the reason he didn't win was because of the injury problem he had from the French Championships. He didn't have the preparation that he needed."

Still, surely Olsson had to admire Idowu for rising to the big occasion again, as he had done in Berlin last summer? "Yeah," the Swede replied, "Phillips started his career not being a championship jumper and he's turned that around. I think it's a lot to do with his coach [Aston Moore]. If you have a good coach, it points you in the right direction, and Phillips has been motivated to change that pattern.

"I was looking at him during the final in Barcelona and, even when he jumped 17.81m, he remained very focused, not cheering too much, not thinking it was a done deal. Everybody knows Teddy can jump far and 17.81m might not have been enough. But it was that day, so good for Phillips.

"I think he has changed over the years. Everybody changes somewhat. I think the more we compete together it becomes less competitive off the track, and more friendly on the track as well. I never felt that Phillips was unfriendly but there's definitely more conversation going on now on the track, at least when it's not championship time."

For Idowu, coming from Britain, it must be especially difficult following in the footsteps of Edwards. "They are big footsteps to fill," Olsson said. "I think having the world record as your national record is difficult. Even though Phillips is also one of the best jumpers of all time, he's always going to be compared with the No 1. But he has to walk his own way and do his own meets and try to beat his own personal best, and not think too much about what Edwards has done.

"I think he's doing just that. I mean, he's world champion, European champion. And there might be more to come."