Douglas set to make great leap forward

"I've only jumped 17.64 [metres]," the 22-year-old Oxford City athlete said. "Let's take it one step at a time." That is how he has approached a career that has already earned him an Olympic outing and, four weeks from now, might see him standing somewhere on the rostrum in Helsinki's Olympic Stadium during the World Championships.

Britain's chances there look pretty pallid right now, with Kelly Holmes ruling herself "less and less likely" to take part because of the Achilles tendon problem that forced her out of the weekend in the Manchester Regional Arena.

Paula Radcliffe's hopes of winning either the marathon or the 10,000 metres have been diminished by the struggle with illness and injury, which converged on her during last month's European Cup outings. And while the sprint relay team still look capable of delivering another global reward, and Kelly Sotherton is in form to add another medal to her collection after taking the heptathlon bronze in Athens last year, Douglas's emergence represents the most telling piece of good news for a nation that is only starting to come to terms with the fact that it will actually host the next-but-one Olympics.

Ten years ago, Jonathan Edwards began his swift trajectory from respectable international triple jumper to dazzling brand leader. That journey began at Loughborough, where he added a centimetre to Keith Connor's 13-year-old national record of 17.57m.

Edwards produced an otherworldly 18.43m at the European Cup the following month - albeit disallowed for a wind reading over the permitted limit - before becoming Britain's only gold medallist at that summer's World Championships in Gothenburg with an effort of 18.29m that has since been unassailed as the world record.

With the reigning Olympic champion, Sweden's Christian Olsson, injured, Douglas now has two main rivals in his sights - Maria Oprea, who has jumped 17.81m this season, and Jadel Gregorio, who had managed 17.73m.

Edwards believes Douglas has the talent, and, critically, the nerve to make an impact in Helsinki, where he will draw upon his experience in Athens last summer, when he narrowly missed a place in the final.

"He has a good head on his shoulders," said the world record holder, who witnessed Douglas's efforts from his place within the BBC commentary team. "He's jumped personal bests in so many of his recent competitions, and now he has made this breakthrough he is going to find that harder to do. But if he can jump to that kind of form in Helsinki I think he's got a medal chance."

Douglas, who said he had been hoping for a jump around the 17.50m mark, paid tribute to Edwards in turn after his event. "It's great to have the standards set by a Briton," he said. "Jonathan has been an inspiration to me."