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An email conversation with Jonathan Edwards

'Idowu needs to focus on winning a gold medal, not jumping 18.5m'

Is this the best or the worst of times for athletes as they prepare for the start of the Olympics? It's a bit of both really. The Olympics is what you work for, but when it arrives you are always very aware that this is it. You know that everything you want could slip away from you in the blink of an eye and you wouldn't get another chance for four years. If you know you're in good shape, it's a fantastic time to be an athlete. But if you're struggling as Chris Tomlinson is now, or even if you're out with an injury like Jessica Ennis, it's a horrendous experience.

So were you always fit as a fiddle before the three Olympics you contested? Yes, I was always in good shape. I was in fabulous shape before the 1992 Barcelona Games and I thought I had a chance of medalling, but it turned out to be a complete disaster. That's the Olympics for you.

You didn't win your Olympic gold until five years after you had set the world record of 18.29 metres at the 1995 Gothenburg World Championships. Did you ever begin to wonder if you were destined to be one of the athletics greats who never won an Olympic title? I lost only narrowly in the 1996 Atlanta Games and, looking back on that year, I don't think I did too badly in winning a silver considering all the pressure I was under. But by the time I got to the Sydney 2000 Olympics, I had gone into two World Championships and one Olympics as the red hot favourite and on each occasion I'd lost, so I was wondering by then whether I was going to win an Olympic title. I remember reading John Rodda saying that I only needed to add an Olympic gold to my performance in Gothenburg to become the greatest field event athlete Britain had ever had, so I was well aware of the tag. At that point, I was like the greatest golfer never to have won a major, or the best tennis player never to have won a Slam.

Suddenly I'm thinking of Paula Radcliffe. What do you think her prospects are in Beijing? I don't know her exact situation, but to be making an Olympic challenge when you have suffered a stress fracture of the femur only two months earlier sounds like madness. I think it was the same kind of thing which drove her to make that attempt to run the 10,000 metres in Athens after she had failed to finish in the marathon. Sometimes, the strength of character which great athletes possess can turn into their Achilles' heel. Maybe she will be happy in Beijing to finish second or third. But even Paula Radcliffe at her best might not win in Beijing because of the difficult conditions. I also think that a lot of people did not give due credit four years ago to the quality of the Japanese girl who won the Olympic marathon.

So what do you think the prospects are for Britain's track and field team in Beijing? Phillips Idowu has clearly got a very good chance in my event, the triple jump. Christine Ohuruogu is already world champion at 400m. She is someone who you can see running their best race in the Beijing final, and that might be enough for her. Now that Carolina Kluft has switched to the long jump, the heptathlon looks like it is going to be a weak event and Kelly Sotherton should win another Olympic medal. If she can get her javelin throw together, it could be gold. So we have three athletes with gold medal potential. I also think Andy Baddeley could be on for a medal in the 1500m and, in the long jump, Greg Rutherford has oodles of talent and a jump of 8.30m could put him on the podium.

After finishing fifth behind you in Sydney, Idowu has performed inconsistently before coming good in the last year and he goes to Beijing as World Indoor Champion, leading this year's world rankings. Surely this is his big chance? Phillips has been jumping consistently well and there is no reason he can't win. Though when he talked about jumping 18.5m, almost a metre further than he has so far, he is in danger of appearing slightly complacent. He doesn't need to be thinking about jumping 18.5m before he has jumped 17.9m or whatever to earn the title.

Your world record of 18.29m, or Michael Johnson's 200m record of 19.32 seconds. Which will be broken first? Usain Bolt's 200m victory at Crystal Palace the other week was one of those performances that makes you sit up in your seat. He could get very close to Michael's record. Can Phillips jump 18.29m? To jump 18.3m, you have to maintain your speed throughout the jump and, although Phillips is fast on the runway, he doesn't carry that all the way through. He's still more of a power jumper. The Brazilian Jadel Gregorio has also jumped a long way, but he is even more based on power. I like Nelson Evora. He's the kind of jumper who will claim the record.

Dwain Chambers will not contest the Beijing Olympics. Are you glad or sad? On balance, I think it was the best decision. In principle, I do believe in second chances, but the way Dwain went about his legal challenge meant the whole thing became a media circus and his inclusion would have been detrimental to Team GB as well as affecting the British public's view of what the Olympic Games are about.

Do you think drugs cheats should be banned for life? I would rather have a four-year ban, than the current two-year one, which would be a strong deterrent that would allow truly dedicated athletes a second chance.

Britain has a target of fourth place in the medals table at London 2012. Is this helpful or realistic? Helpful? Yes, but I'm not sure how relevant. Going from 10th in 2004 to fourth sounds like too big a jump. Which sports are going to make that up? Not track and field. We've already got the best cyclists in the world, and the rowers are doing great, so where are we going to get the extra medals? I'm not sure it's that important. As long as we get 10 superstars over the two weeks in 2012, that will be enough to capture the imagination of the British public and ensure the Olympics are seen as a success.

Jonathan Edwards took part in the Volkswagen Touareg King of Cowes. The Volkswagen Touareg 4x4 is the Official Vehicle Sponsor of Skandia Cowes Week. For further information visit: www.volkswagen.co.uk and www.kingofcowes.com


*Born 10 May 1966, London.

*World record holder Triple jump – 18.29 metres in 1995.

*Olympics Gold (Sydney 2000), silver (Atlanta 1996).

*World Championships Gold (1995 and 2001), silver (1997), bronze (1993 and 1999).

*European Championships Gold (1998), bronze (2002).

*World Indoor Championships Silver (2001).

*Post track and field career: BBC athletics commentator. Presented Songs of Praise until 2007. Once a devout Christian, he even refused to compete on Sundays during his early days, but confirmed last year that he had rejected Christianity.