Usually it's hard to miss Phillips Idowu. With his ultraviolet hairstyles and confident swagger he is instantly recognisable when doing what he does best – leaping to triple jump glory for Team GB. All of which makes it even more surprising that the Hackney-born athlete has pulled off such a convincing disappearing act – days before he is supposed to complete for Olympic gold.
Today, The Independent joined the hunt for Idowu, who has been dubbed the “invisible man” by UK Athletics' Head Coach Charles van Commenee, after radio silence set in last week.
The final word Idowu's coach Aston Moore heard from him was a cursory text message. He has not been training and if he does not arrive in Athlete's Village by Sunday, he will not be allowed to stay there, although he could still compete in Tuesday's qualifiers – if he remember to turn up.
Commenee has called the situation “bizarre” and no explanation of Idowu's actions has been totally satisfactory. Some say he's injured, but the British Olympic Association (BOA) have said he is fine. Others suspect he is angry with his coach, while his opponents think he is playing mind games.
Only one thing is certain: no-one knows where on God's green earth the man is.
Idowu's agent, Jonathan Marks, was either unaware of his whereabouts or not at liberty to say, referring all queries about his man to the British Olympic Association – who said that all they know is that Idowu is fit and well.
“There is nothing more I can say,” Mr Marks added. “Believe me, my life would be a lot easier if there was.”
At his old training ground at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre they haven't seen him – or his car – for some time. “He was a regular here, but I haven't seen him for some a long time. You always used to know he was here because he had a flashy car, that stood out,” a spokesman said.
Following the trail to some to Idowu's native Hackney, a mere hop skip and a jump from the Olympic Park in London, The Independent spoke to local traders who confirmed that their boy was not hiding out in his old haunts.
"You sometimes see him coming down here having a look around,” said the owner of a fruit and veg stall Hoxton. “It's been a while since we saw him, though; perhaps a couple of months."
A neighbouring trader, who gave her name as Susan, agreed saying she used to see Idowu from time to time. Laughing, she pointed to the stall opposite and said: "in fact, I'm sure the last time he was here buying a suitcase."
And well he might need one. If he does not eventually turn up, Idowu's coaches are not likely to be happy with him. UK Athletics has invested more than £1m in his development as an athlete and he commands an appearance fee of £50,000, on top of £75,000 annual medical fees. The opportunity to win gold in London would be the culmination of many years hard work and investment – squandering it would not go down well.
Idowu's omnishambles of an Olympic run-in began early. He has competed only three times this year and had been out of action after injuring his foot at a competition in Oregon, USA in June. He pulled out of Team GB's Olympic training camp in Portugal ahead of the Games, this time suffering from a hip injury. The BOA asked to see a medical statement, which came from a private physiotherapist and not Team GB's medics.
Idowu can still compete and van Commenee is even holding out hope that he might turn up at the Athlete's Village, saying that there is a bed for him if he wants it. Two days ago he surfaced on Twitter, posting first-person footage of himself running with the Olympic torch during the Relay. So we know he is alive. And near a computer.
“If he was to be seen I will make Aston [Idowu's coach] available,” van Commenee said. “But first he has to show up. And we don't know when he's going to show up, if he shows up, where he sleeps. All these things we've got no idea about."
Phillips Idowu, a nation waits. Don't forget to turn up this time.