Athletics: Edwards extends the twilight

Triple jump No 1 craves one more precious medal. But, Andrew Longmore says, it may not be the last

Tuesday 17 December 2013 03:52

A peculiar pressure is mounting on the slender shoulders of the world's greatest triple jumper. It stems not just from the need to win the one major championship which has so far eluded him, but from the absolute certainty of everyone else's assumptions that he will.

Jonathan Edwards has spent a sporting life at the business end of the telescope, but winning gold at home in front of a passionate crowd in the City of Manchester Stadium today will prompt a particular sense of satisfaction for Jonathan Edwards, who admits that motivation can be a fickle companion at this twilight stage of his career.

"Competing for a major medal, you don't need any motivating," said the world and Olympic champion yesterday. "There are times when it has not bothered me too much whether I've won or lost, but this is a real championships and the problem is that everybody seems to think that they ought to have hung the medal around my neck instead of my accreditation.

"That's the feeling I get and I know from experience that's not the case. Since 1995 [when he broke the world record in Gothenburg] I've had a big target painted on my back. That makes it tough."

Edwards' retirement remains a matter of speculation. One newspaper report last week linked him to the job of Religious Affairs Correspondent of the BBC, a report he firmly denied yesterday. "I presented Songs of Praise three months ago and I will almost certainly present the programme again," he explained. "When I retire a media career is a live option, but I don't know where that story came from and I'm not sure who my friends are who gave the information."

By coincidence, Edwards had recorded two readings from the bible to be broadcast on Radio 4 this morning. But, on the timing of his departure, his reading came from the Book of Cliches. Taking each event as it comes was the gist of it, except that, for the first time, Edwards did not entirely dismiss the idea of defending his Olympic title in Athens at the age of 38.

"I do think about it," he said. "It would be amazing to be in good shape and to be sitting in a press conference for the Athens Olympics. No athlete would not want to do that no matter how old they are and how many championships they've been to. But there's two years between now and then and I've got to see how this one goes and the European Championships go in Munich and then see if I've got the will to go through another winter and another after that. It's more the training and the discipline. Once you get to the championships, that's the easy bit."

Alongside him, Paula Radcliffe talked with equal charm about the expectations generated by her fluent debut in the London Marathon in the spring. Tonight, Radcliffe returns to the track bidding to win her first gold in a major championships in the 5,000m, the first leg of a double which could well be completed in the 10,000m at the European championships in Munich next month. No golds for a decade and then two come along within a fortnight? It is a tantalising possibility for an athlete who has put out a patent on gallant front-running defeat.

A preparatory 3,000m race in Monaco recently revealed Radcliffe in a new light, able to match the Olympic champion Gaby Szabo for finishing speed and to leave the Kenyan, Edith Masai, her main rival tonight, trailing in her wake. "I definitely feel stronger mentally and physically," says the 28-year-old. "I think that's just the weight of training I've been doing for the marathon. When it comes to the last lap, to the last 200 metres, I'm not as tired as I was. That makes me more confident and gives me more options tactically. But the big thing for me is to stay relaxed."

The familiar bobbing figure will surf on a wave of popular support aware that a Commonwealth medal might yet be the precursor of a golden era. "I feel there's more to come," she said. "I showed in the 3,000m there's a lot more and I thought I'd reached my limit at that event. I think I've got very good chances here and at the European Championships, but I'm trying not to think about the future and I'm trying not to think about the past. I've never had a chance to compete in a major championships at home and I know from running the marathon how much home support meant to me then."

For Edwards, the final gold for his collection. For Radcliffe, the first. Tonight, there will be no future and no past for either of them.

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