The rest is history for Edwards

THE COMEBACK: Britain's feted triple jumper has sealed a remarkable recovery from illness.
Click to follow
JONATHAN Edwards, the new triple jump world-record holder, is a modest man. Immediately after his record leap in Salamanca last Tuesday night he was keen to share the credit for his achievement: "It's a team effort," he insisted. The team consists of Edwards, his long-time coach Carl Johnson, and his technical adviser, Peter Stanley. Johnson is the man in charge: "I'm the doctor," he likes to say. "Peter is the nurse."

The medical metaphor is appropriate. Only a few months ago, Edwards was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr, a debilitating virus which causes swollen glands, tonsillitis and general lassitude. To break a world record is a magnificent achievement. To do so soon after recovering from such an unpleasant and persistent virus can only mean that Edwards is an extraordinarily talented and determined athlete.

The astonishing form that Edwards has shown this season - jumps of 18.43m and 18.39m ruled out by following winds, then last week's record effort of 17.98m - eluded him last year. He won the AAA title, and a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games, but he and his coaches felt that something was wrong. In September 1994, after managing only a miserable 15.81m at the Paris Grand Prix meeting, Edwards withdrew from the World Cup team and went for medical tests at the British Olympic Medical Centre at Northwick Park Hospital, in north- west London. The Epstein-Barr virus was found to be the culprit for his poor performances.

"He had tried to jump through it," Stanley said. "But his results were very disappointing." Then his fellow athlete Roger Black, who had been suffering from the same complaint, told Edwards that the only way to see off the virus was to take a total break from athletics. "So,"Stanley recalled, "Jonathan went into hibernation."

It was a worrying time. Edwards is a "professional athlete", having given up his job as a geneticist at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle; he has a wife and two young children to support, and he was missing potentially lucrative indoor winter meetings. There were moments when the future looked bleak. As he told a local reporter: "I was wondering what I was going to do with my life."

The Epstein-Barr virus can be very difficult to shake off, and relapses are often triggered by excessive physical activity. But by the time he started work on his technique with Stanley in February of this year, Edwards was regaining his strength and speed. Psychologically, though, the disease had taken its toll. "It had left him at quite a low ebb," Stanley said. "My job was to motivate him."

The solution lay in what Stanley calls "group therapy". He put Edwards to work at the Jarrow track with an elite squad of younger jumpers. "They were all doing different exercises," Stanley said, "but the youngsters were the catalyst for motivating Jonathan."

John Crotty, who has been Britain's national triple jump coach for 14 years and who is a friend of Edwards, believes that his time off the track may have benefited the athlete. "When he came back from the virus," Crotty said, "he'd had time to reflect. The brain takes a while to get information on board, and when you take on a new technique it is natural to flit in and out of it." Rested in mind and body, Edwards was ready for the detailed technical work that Stanley had prepared for him.

"Nurse" Stanley's treatment has worked: the distances that Edwards has been jumping are the evidence. Expert observers can see why. "His jump is much better," John Crotty said. "And his leg shoot before landing has improved - he used to land by just putting his feet down. Speed and strength have come together." Crotty drewa resonant historical parallel: "It's like Bob Beamon: everybody always used to say that if he ever took off close to the board he'd do well, and he certainly did. It's just the same with Jon: there's really no reason why he shouldn't jump 19 metres."

Edwards is diligent in his pursuit of the one great leap. As well as the technical work with Stanley, he is fine-tuning his physique with Norman Anderson, a weight-training expert who previously worked with Steve Cram. The search for excellence is relentless. As soon as Edwards had shaken the sand of Salamanca from his feet he was criticising his own record-breaking effort. "Technically, the jump was not particularly good," he said. "I started it too far forward."

He was quickly on the phone to Stanley, analysing the jump, looking for ways to improve. "His thoughts were exactly the same as mine," Stanley said. "While you can't be disappointed with a record-breaking effort, aspects of the jump could have been technically better. We've studied the data carefully, and we reckon he hopped 6.2 metres, stepped 5.4 metres and got the distance back with a superb jump of 6.38 metres." It was close to Edwards' potential, Stanley believes, "but I've seen him step further. There's more there, but to get all the phases 100 per cent right . . . that would be a jump in a million."

Crotty is convinced a really big jump is not far away for Edwards. "He has the strength of his convictions," he said, referring to the athlete's powerful religious faith as well as his self-confidence. "He believes he can do it. He's a humble man; he can't boast. But he doesn't have to. He lets the distances do the talking for him."

Black, the fellow-sufferer whose advice was crucial to Edwards' comeback, has recently made an impressive return to form himself, equalling his eight-year-old career-best for 400 metres. There is no greater incentive for recovery than the sense of a talent unexploited.