Date of Birth: 1966
Club: Gateshead Harriers.
Coach(s): Carl Johnson, Norman Anderson and Peter Stanley.
Jonathan Edwards took triple jumping to another level in the summer of 1995, where he established a world record which could last more than one generation.
When he leapt 18.29m, he became the first athlete to clear 60ft for this event and since then only other athlete, American Kenny Harrison, has cleared the 18m-barrier - and he did that to beat Edwards to Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996. Edwards achieved his success in a career where this vicar’s son, as a committed Christian, at first he chose not to compete on Sundays, passing the chance of taking part in the World Championships in 1991. But by Stuttgart in 1993, he had changed his mind, which proved a fortunate decision because the qualifying round of the triple jump at the World Championships was on a Sunday. He progressed safely to the final, where he took the bronze medal and it proved the foundation to greatness.
It’s Long…It’s Very Long
Edwards had first jumped 16m in 1986 and progressed rapidly to become the best triple jumper in Britain by 1989, when he burst into world class and was third at the World Cup with 17.28m. In 1990 his form was affected by an injured right ankle, but he won the Commonwealth silver medal, a feat he repeated in 1994. He won the World Cup in 1992, but the sensational part of his amazing 1995 was the fact it was so unexpected.
The previous summer he had finished sixth at the European Championships in Helsinki before winning silver at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, solid-enough performances but nothing to say that 12 months later he would become untouchable. Edwards had fabulous speed on the runway. It is believed he was even quicker than Linford Christie, Britain’s 1992 Olympic 100m champion, over 20m - and combining that with his slick hop, skipping and jumping, it became an unbeatable package.
He had started the outdoor season with a British record 17.58m, having achieved a wind-assisted best of 17.70m in 1993. But it was at the European Cup in Lille, ironically on a Sunday, that Britain realised it had a phenomenon on its hands. His series was 17.90m(w), an amazing 18.43m(w,+2.4), 17.72m with a legal wind to add 14 cm to his British record, and 18.39m(w,+3.7). The previous longest ever jump was 18.20 m (w,+5.2) by American Willie Banks at Indianapolis in 1988 who also held the world record of 17.97m.
His best of 18.43m (w) was comprised of a 6.50m hop, a 5.60m step and a 6.33m jump and the world record was not too far away. It came at Salamanca, Spain, when he jumped 17.98m, before the World Championships in Gothenburg became his finest hour. Edwards was at his peak. His speed was remarkable on that afternoon in Sweden and his first jump blew away the rest of the competition. He jumped 18.16m, smashing his world record, and then in the second round, he went even further, clearing 18.29m.
He had recorded the first legal 18m and 60ft jumps with legal wind and ended the year unbeaten in 14 competitions. He was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year, the L’Equipe International Champion of Champions and he was the IAAF Male Athlete of 1995. But often he recalled how his ‘fame’ hit him most when he was shopping at the Metro Centre near his home in Gateshead, when suddenly he was mobbed by people who just wanted to congratulate him.
Olympics Here We Come
One of the difficulties Edwards faced was the level of expectation and while he entered the Olympic Games in Atlanta as favourite, it was not to be. It was there that his run of 22 successive wins was ended by Harrison, whose 18.09m beat Edwards into silver by 21 centimetres.
He remained optimistic that he would be still be around at this level for Sydney four years later, but before that he had to battle through some of the most traumatic times of his career. In 1997, the defence of his world title in Athens saw him finish second before he had keyhole surgery on his left ankle at the end of the 1998 season, forcing him to miss the Commonwealth Games, though he had finally lifted the European title in Budapest.
He won nine of his 12 competitions in 1999, although he was left disappointed by finishing third at the World Championships in Seville, an event which ended with him and wife Alison cuddling by the trackside, during a difficult time for their family because of his mother-in-law being ill. In 2000, he was the World No 1 again, but days before the Games were about to start, his mother-in-law died. Edwards contemplated returning home. He was told to stay, and fuelled up with even more emotion and dedication to the cause, he won the gold medal.
His moment arrived in the third round, with a jump of 17.71m, the best in the world and further proof of the way he had shown how mentally he could climb through the barrier of not winning a global title since 1995.He was back, and though he had to settle for silver at the World Indoor Championships in Lisbon with 17.26m as Paolo Camossi won with 17.32m, outdoors he reigned supreme again. After securing a place in the World championship final in Edmonton with the last of his three jumps in qualifying, he then leapt 17.92m to become only the second Briton to regain a world title (Colin Jackson in 1999 was the other).
The main gold medal to elude Edwards was the Commonwealth Games title, but he put that right on a Sunday evening in Manchester in 2002. Londoner Phillips Idowu had been fast progressing as the man who one day would succeed him as British No 1 and here he led the competition with 17.68m. Edwards took to the runway, looked around, knew his time had come again and in the third round set a world-leading mark of 17.86m to complete the set of the four majors.
Christian Olsson, of Sweden, who had sat in the stand in his home city of Gothenburg in 1995 watching Edwards’ exploits, was the new kid on the block and he won the European title in Munich in 17.53m as the British star finished third with 17.32m. In 2003, Edwards made a late start to his outdoor campaign, but then produced an amazing 17.61m, his best ever season’s opener, in the Gateshead with an even bigger no jump in the third round in the competition won by Olsson with 17.92m (w). He was third at Stockholm with 17.14m and at the London Grand Prix with 17.19m, yet in the latter he sustained an ankle injury and was carried off. A scan showed no break and he was able to compete at the World Championships in Paris, qualifying with 16.94m, but he took only two jumps in the final, thus ending his wonderful career in anti-climatic fashion, last with 16.31m.
He has moved into television, as an athletics commentator on the BBC and as the presenter of the Sunday evening religious show Songs Of Praise. He received an MBE in 1995 and CBE in 2000, but still there is no sign of his world record being eclipsed.
International Championships at triple jump
1987: 9th World University Games
1988: dnq 23rd Olympics
1989: 3rd World Cup
1990: 2nd Commonwealth Games
1992: dnq Olympics, 1st World Cup
1993: 6th World Indoors, 3rd Worlds, 2nd European Cup
1994: 4th European Cup, 2nd Commonwealth Games, 6th Europeans
1995: 1st European Cup, 1st Worlds
1996: 1st European Cup, 2nd Olympics, won IAAF Grand Prix
1997: 1st European Cup, 2nd Worlds
1998: 1st European Indoors, 1st European Cup, 1st Europeans
1999: 2nd European Cup, 3rd Worlds
2000: 1st Olympics
2001: 2nd World Indoors, 1st European Cup, 1st Worlds
2002: 1st European Cup, 1st Commonwealth Games, 3rd Europeans, 1st World Cup
2003: 4th World Indoors, 12th Worlds
UK Internationals: 49 (1988-2003)
Won AAA 1989, 1994, 1998, 2001; UK 1989 and 1992
TJ 18.29 (world record) and 18.43w (1995), 100m 10.48 (1996), 200m 22.2 (1989), LJ 7.41 and 7.45w (1992)
Indoors: 50m 5.9 (1993), 60m 6.73 (1998), TJ 17.64 (1998, British record)