Athletics: Edwards left out of bounds

OLYMPIC GAMES: Mike Rowbottom sees the world record holder beaten by a leap of brilliance

Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 27 July 1996 23:02

He Had envisaged winning. He had envisaged failing horribly. In the end, it was neither as good nor as bad for Jonathan Edwards as he took the triple jump silver medal, Britain's first of the athletics programme, with a leap of 17.88 metres.

His last despairing effort looked big enough to win, but it was a foul. Edwards sank to his knees in the sand; not in prayer, but despair. Edwards' silver- medal mark was the best distance he had achieved all year, but, given his world-record performances of last season, it had to be seen as a disappointment.

Edwards could not match the inspired form of the home jumper Kenny Harrison, whose winning distance of 18.09m was the second longest legal mark of all time, bettered only by Edwards in winning last year's world championship.

It might have been different if Edwards' prodigious opening effort had not been a marginal foul. Just to make the evening even more excruciating for him, his penultimate effort was huge, way beyond 18m - but his foot was well over.

Thus ended an unbeaten run that stretched back to 11 June 1995. It had been a glorious journey for Edwards, who has the longest ever distance, 18.43m, to his name. But it ended in bitter frustration. If anyone can deal with that, however, it is this balanced, Christian, family man.

Harrison, who was allowed a controversial entry to the Games after IAAF officials overruled the American authorities and accepted an indoor mark as qualification, had his night completed as he watched his fiancee, Gail Devers, retain her 100m title. For the American, at 31, it was consolation for the last Olympics, which - in an odd echo of Edwards' position - he had approached as world champion and strong favourite. In his case, an injury two weeks beforehand ruined his chances.

The Briton, who had responded with a tight smile as the Union Jacks came out to greet him, approached his opening jump with an expression of puffed- cheek intent which seemed more intense than anything he had ever mustered.

After his unconvincing qualification, when he narrowly failed to make the automatic distance of 17m, he was clearly bent on imposing himself upon his rivals from the first moment.

It did not - quite - happen for him. The jump was fluent, and exhilaratingly long - reaching out towards the 18m mark. But Edwards' features darkened into uncharacteristic fury as he stood up - his toe had infringed fractionally over the board.

Harrison, who had won the US trials here last month in a wind-assisted 18.01m, recorded an Olympic record of 17.99m on his first jump - lifted in part, perhaps, by the huge support of the home crowd. He flipped a full somersault in his excitement.

Edwards' second jump was also a foul, more obviously, and he appeared to have travelled less far. But he gathered his concentration for the third attempt, moving into third place with 17.13m, and patting his heart with relief as he walked back.

The fan factor did not work in the same way for the reigning champion, Mike Conley, as it had for Harrison. But the encouragement got through in the end, as Conley moved up to the silver position with 17.40m on his fourth attempt.

Edwards was next, and his effort was clearly an advance. As he walked back to his mark he clenched his right fist in satisfaction, licking his lips nervously. Up came the distance, 17.88m, putting him back up the order and into the silver position.

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