Big Ben had just struck 9.30am yesterday when Big Phil turned up on Westminster Pier, complete with personalised baseball cap and Batman T-shirt. It was the first public sighting of Phillips Idowu for five and a half weeks, since the 6ft 6in Hackney man landed awkwardly midway through the triple jump competition at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene, Oregon on 2 June.
According to Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics, Idowu's absence from the competitive arena in the crucial build-up to the home Olympics has been due to injury. Not so, claimed Idowu – who intends to return to action on the second day of the Aviva London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace on Saturday, and who insisted that all will be right on the night of the hop, step and jump final in the Olympic Stadium on Thursday 9 August.
Idowu has long been an enigma wrapped up in a headband, and on a cruise down the Thames to publicise his appearance at the Palace it was difficult to pin down exactly what has been going on with the 33-year-old Belgrave Harrier in his Scarlet Pimpernel Olympic preparations – other than a continuing rift with Van Commenee that is patently as wide as the dirty old river of his home town.
The pair have not spoken since June last year, when Van Commenee accused Idowu of announcing his withdrawal from the European Team Championships on Twitter, and Idowu responded by branding Van Commenee "a liar".
When Idowu withdrew from the Olympic trials in Birmingham three weeks ago, Van Commenee said he could not discuss the situation because of "medical confidentiality." And when the Olympic track and field team was announced in London last week, the Dutchman said that Idowu had missed the trials because "he was injured".
According to Idowu yesterday, however, there has been no specific injury. "I'm good," the former world champion and 2008 Olympic silver medallist said. "I've just been keeping my head down, getting on with my day job. I've not mentioned anything about an injury. No one's actually heard the words come out of my mouth – or from my coach or from any of my representatives. I've just let that rumour mill stir itself.
"It's worked in my favour – especially with it being such a big year and it being a massive championships for me, being born and raised in East London. I'm glad that I've had the time to just focus on the work that I need to do to go out and perform really well."
Clearly, the East Ender with the Batman clobber has been happy to fly under the radar in home-from-home Olympic year. "Yeah, they call me the Invisible Man," he said, with a smile.
Still, it is flying in the face of track and field convention to be invisible for six weeks in the run up to an Olympic Games without a medical reason. Asked to clarify that he had not been injured during his prolonged absence from action, Idowu replied: "Any competition I've missed has been precautionary." Precautionary because of injury or some other factor, though?
"Precautionary because... I triple jump, so I'm always feeling aches and pains," Idowu responded to the follow-up query. "It's Olympic year, so I don't want to do anything to jeopardise my chances of being in the best possible shape that I can be in at the Games.
"Missing the trials was precautionary – to make sure that I could recover from the work I'd done in the lead up to the trials and then focus on another block of training in preparation for this competition and the Games. I've never mentioned or said anything about having an injury."
Van Commenee, however, did use the 'i' word when asked about Idowu at the Olympic team announcement a week ago, and inferred it at the trials with his reference to "medical confidentiality".
What had Idowu made of that? "You know what, the only story I've read [about a supposed injury] was when I landed back from Eugene on 2 June and it was a shock to me," he said.
"I was like 'Wow, that's news'. That story was out in the press before I had even spoken to anybody."
But what about Van Commenee having stated more recently that he was injured at the time of the trials? "So he told you that?" Idowu replied. "I don't know anything about that. I can't comment because I don't even know if he used those words. I don't know what happened."
Clearly, what has been happening since June last year is a festering of the bad blood between one of the major medal contenders in the British team and the head coach.
"That's not an issue, to be honest," Idowu insisted. "This year I have kept myself to myself. The people most important to me are my family, my representatives and my coach.
"Those are the small circle of people I work with, who are involved in my preparation for the Games. Outside of that, no one else needs to be involved."
It will come as no shock to Van Commenee to hear that he is considered an outsider by his most consistent medal winner on the major championship front. It will be a greater concern to him, however, that Idowu is outside of the top eight in the world rankings – down in 10th with a season's best of 17.31m – with two weeks to go before the home Olympics.
Not that Idowu himself is concerned by his lack of form. "I always feel that when it comes to competing for medals you will get the best out of me," he said. "I definitely feel that I have the form in me that I had in Daegu last year."
At the World Championships in South Korea last August, Idowu took silver behind Christian Taylor, the young American who leads the 2012 world rankings with 17.63m. "I have that form in me, and more," he added. "It is just a case of performing and getting that big jump out."
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