Athletics: Idowu strives to take over the mantle of Edwards

By Mike Rowbottom
Saturday 28 December 2013 04:16
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If, for some future triple jump competition, Phillips Idowu should choose to dress up in a tiger suit – not beyond the bounds of possibility given his flamboyant nature; after all, Kriss Akabusi once turned up in giant carpet slippers – then he would be able to give an outstanding impersonation of Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh.

The latest version of exuberantly bouncing Idowu was seen in the not-so-uplifting environment of Sheffield on a grey and rainy Sunday afternoon as he celebrated an important victory at the Norwich Union Classic.

Certainly, he was pleased with his winning distance, a wind-assisted 17.34 metres that fell only four centimetres short of his all-time best. But the main reason for the mad pogoing was that Jonathan Edwards – world record holder, world, Olympic and European champion – was in second place. It was the first defeat the 36-year-old Gateshead Harrier had suffered at the hands of a domestic rival in five years.

Edwards, who had won the European Cup a week earlier in the roasting heat of Annecy, looked less than happy in the chill conditions, only managing 17.05m. For all that, his 23-year-old rival – whose constantly changing hair colour had stopped at red for the day – could not contain his joy.

"Sheffield was just for starters," he said this week. "I have proved I can beat him so there is no reason to go into meetings thinking I will finish second or third.

"I think Jonathan is beginning to show his age a bit. It's my time to come through. I caught him with a bit of a sniper shot in Sheffield and I think that may have put a little doubt in his mind."

The truth of Idowu's speculation could be tested this weekend in Birmingham at the Norwich Union AAA Championships, which are doubling this year as the trials for next month's European Championships in Munich. That said, there are doubts about whether Edwards, who has missed the AAAs before and did not compete at last month's Commonwealth Trials in Manchester, will rely once more upon his ungainsayable reputation.

Idowu, who finished sixth behind Edwards in the 2000 Olympic final, made his own statement of independence when he heard that the event's No 1 would be giving Manchester a miss. He entered the long jump, his second-string event, challenging the selectors to add him to the team along with Edwards and the Englishman who finished highest in the trials, Tosin Oke. They did.

John Herbert, who has coached Idowu for the last five years, explained that Idowu's approach had been influenced by the fact that Edwards was not present.

"It would have been fantastic for the event, and for getting bums on seats on the Saturday, if Jonathan Edwards had turned up to the Commonwealth trials," said Herbert, who preceded Edwards as a British winner in the European Cup triple jump. "But he didn't, and the other guys were pissed off about that. They were thinking: 'If he's not there, why should I compete?' And so Phillips said to himself: 'You know what? I'm going to compete in something else'."

The decision worked out for Idowu, although Herbert denies it was a gamble given that his man had already shown fitness and form with a 17.18m effort earlier in the season.

"Sheffield was significant for Phillips because it showed him he was capable of beating Jonathan," Herbert said. "But you can't go into competitions thinking about someone else, because if you do that you are beaten already.

"In the last two years he has shown he can get into major competitions and perhaps get a personal best. But he is now at the stage where I feel he has to make the next step at a major championship and either pick up a medal or win it.

"In previous years, Phillips has been a bit like Bambi. But now he is actually beginning to look like a triple jumper. I wouldn't be surprised if he beat his pb [personal best] this weekend." However he does in Birmingham, it is a certainty that Idowu – who is sponsored by a hair dye company – will be colourfully in evidence. But he is hopeful of earning attention for his performance as much as his appearance.

"For the last two years people have been telling me how far I can go, saying I can go 18 metres, or 18.50 metres," he said. "Up until now I haven't been sure, but I've put a lot of work into my life and training recently and I don't see any reason why I can't be the best in the event."

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