Teesside Tower to take leap of faith

Chris Tomlinson is back from his Italian wedding but, unlike Wayne Rooney, he has a top European event to attend. By Simon Turnbull
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It has been two weeks now since Chris Tomlinson's Italian wedding, and the world indoor long jump silver-medallist is still waiting for the big photoshoot pay-off. "No, there was no £2.5 million photo deal with the Evening Gazette," the 6ft 6in tower of a Teessider said, referring to the local paper for himself and Lucia Rovardi, with whom he walked down the aisle in a hilltop town south of Rome on 29 May. "I think there might be a one-penny deal with Athletics Weekly on the cards, but that's about it."

Still, Tomlinson is savouring the priceless memory of having spliced the nuptials in Arpino – not because it was some fashionable celebrity wedding spot but because it happened to be from where his bride's family originated before they settled in Middlesbrough (and became one of the country's leading manufacturers of ice cream cones and wafers) and before she emerged as a West End actress (currently starring as Maria in Buddy at the Duchess Theatre).

"It wasn't a Wayne and Colleen £5m job," he laughed. "It was an unbelievable experience: 150 North-easterners in this beautiful little place just south of Rome."

It is certainly not a Wayne Rooney job now for Tomlinson. Unlike the Manchester United footballer, the British long jump record-holder is getting ready to represent his country in a European competition, his own honeymoon having been postponed until the end of the Olympic track season. Next weekend, Tomlinson jumps for Britain at the European Cup in Annecy.

It was in the pretty French town that the Britain men's track-and- field team last lifted the European Cup, in June 2002. Tomlinson was one of eight British winners that weekend and is one of only two survivors in the men's team, alongside Marlon Devonish, who won the 200m in the Parc des Sports six years ago and contests the same event this time.

"That was the first big competition I won," Tomlinson said. "I was just a 20-year-old and it was a great moment. If you look back at that team we had, it just shows the turnaround in British athletics. We had Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jackson, Steve Backley – and those are three major names. We had Dwain Chambers, too..."

Chambers was the team captain who ended up being dunked into the steeplechase water jump in celebration of victory, one hand clutching the trophy, the other a Union flag. It was not until the following year that it emerged that Chambers had been waiving the rules, with the revelation that he had been fuelled to victory in the 100m in Annecy, and elsewhere in 2002 and 2003, by the designer steroid tetrahydrogestrinone. It was only in 2006 that the points he earned were formally docked from the official score, retrospectively relegating the British men from first to fourth in the revised 2002 European Cup result. "Really?" Tomlinson enquired on Friday. "I didn't know that."

It would be good to think that Britannia could rule the Continental waves again in Annecy, legitimately so this time. For Tomlinson, there is the need to make an individual mark next weekend, with the Beijing Olympics seven weeks away and with the other leading contenders for long jump medals already into an impressive competitive groove.

Four of Tomlinson's rivals have already jumped farther than the 8.29m British record he set at Bad Langensalza in Germany last year, most notably the Panamanian Irving Saladino, who leapt 8.73m at the FBK Games at Hengelo, Holland three weeks ago, the fourth longest jump at sea level. Tomlinson finished sixth with 7.85m, five days before his wedding, though he improved to a wind-assisted 8.09m at Bad Langensalza last week. "Sala-dino is head and shoulders above everyone else at the moment," he said. "But behind him we can all fight our case. I would notput any of the others ahead of myself – not significantly so."

It was only in March that Tomlinson came within touching distance of a global crown, finishing 2cm behind Godfrey Moko-ena of South Africa as silver medallist at the World Indoor Championships in Valencia. On Friday he was at Gateshead International Stadium promoting the Aviva British Grand Prix that takes place at the Tyneside track on Sunday 31 August, seven days after the conclusion of Olympic business in Beijing. How much would it mean to him to have a medal to parade at a homecoming on North-east soil?

"To go to the Olympics and win a medal, and then come back in front of your friends and families and supporters..." Tomlinson said, pondering the prospect. "Ah, it would mean everything."