20th April 2020


Our series of flash backs to memorable British moments in the sport over the decades moves on a year this week. Here 2001 takes the focus and another sensational achievement by Jonathan Edwards but not without a nod to the British Braveheart Dean Macey and Road Queen Paula Radcliffe.

Thirty five – an age at which many believe an elite sportsman or woman should be thinking about life after the track, runway, pitch or court but don’t say that to the Jonathan Edwards of 2001.

In the same year that France’s legendary World Cup winning football captain Didier Deschamps was hanging up his boots at 32, and a year after claiming an elusive Olympic title, Edwards proved age doesn’t really matter at all at the World Championships in Edmonton.

While his fellow Olympic champion from Sydney 2000 Denise Lewis briefly stepped away from the track following her success Down Under and missed the Canadian showpiece, Edwards, who completed a triple jump triple crown in Australia, remained well and truly on it, revitalised and arguably the best there ever was.

The World Championships hadn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for Edwards though. True his career started impressively with bronze in Stuttgart in 1993 and then that world record breaking world title in Gothenburg in 1995 but he failed to reach the summit in his next two attempts, silver in Athens in 1997 and then bronze in Seville in 1999.

Come Edmonton Edwards was a different beast though, and it was rather apt that the date of the final – August 6 – was just one day shy of that world gold in Gothenburg six years ago.

As always though, you can’t win gold if you don’t qualify for the final and Edwards, like many competitions before him, was the clear favourite – although he also had first-hand experience of not living up to that billing as he settled for silver at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.

Qualification was no synch, not by a long shot. Yes he progressed with the longest jump of all 27 athletes who took to the runway but Edwards had to pull out that 17.46m jump with his third and final attempt after an initial foul and second effort of 16.51m.

Of course there are three attempts for a reason and Edwards took it in his stride and there would be no such doubts in the final – no such doubts at all. He opened up with 16.84m to sit third and then produced a monster jump that looked to be beyond 18m during the second round only for the red flag to rise and it later be known that he fouled by just 6cm.

There was no denying Edwards in round three though as he leapt out to 17.92m – and from thereon in the competition was over. No one would come close to Edwards, not even himself as he pulled up with calf cramps during round four, skipped round five and attempted a victory leap in round six only to abort it.

That leap of 17.92m was better than his Olympic gold-medal winning effort of 17.71m, in fact it was his best for three years, a 2001 world lead, a distance only two men apart from him had ever beaten and, rather comically, a masters world record. Others suggested it one of the most memorable moments in World Championship history to that point.

It was notable in so many other ways too, now with two golds, a silver and two bronzes Edwards was the most successful British athlete at the World Championships and only the second Brit to regain a world title after Colin Jackson.

The triple crown completed in Sydney in 2000, Edwards was also now the reigning Olympic, world and European champion and a year later would complete a grand slam by winning the Commonwealth title in Manchester.

As Edwards leapt his way into immortality, there was another Brit battling his way into medal contention. On the night of Edwards’ gold Dean Macey was busy tackling the fifth event of the decathlon, the 400m, and winning it and surging into the overall lead with a personal best of 46.21.

That was the culmination of a great first day for Macey, who was never outside the top three after a 10.72 100m, a best of 7.59 in the long jump, a throw of 15.41m in the shot and a 2.15m personal best in the high jump to move into second before the 400m.

As would later become clear, it was day two where the battle got even harder for Macey. A groin problem seriously threatened to derail Macey’s charge but he showed immense character to open the day with a personal best of 14.34 in the 110m hurdles to keep him well in contention.

A best if 46.96m in the discus maintained his second place overall however it was the pole vault and javelin where Macey lost track as Estonian Erki Nool won the former to leapfrog the Brit into second and Czech leader Tomas Dvorak claiming the latter to maintain pole position.

By this time it was his hamstring and elbow, in addition to his groin, that were flaring up however in true brave style, Macey powered on and a closing 4:29.05 in the 1500m pushed him to a personal best score of 8603, which was comfortably good enough for bronze.

Macey did claim silver at the previous World Championships in Seville in 1999 however in this competition Dvorak produced the third best performance in history with 8902 and Nool the best non-winning effort ever with 8815. A third personal best in as many championships was still extremely commendable for the Brit.

Edwards and Macey contributed the only medals for the British team in what was then the worst return from a major event for 25 years but, as can be the case, there was more to the statistics. Three British athletes were fourth and all three by less than a tenth of a second.

Paula Radcliffe was one of them. She finished outside the medals in the women’s 10,000m by 0.08 – a rare blemish on an otherwise great year for the Brit. First came the World Cross Country Championship title in Belgium and two months after the heartache of Edmonton she was once again on top at the World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol.

Daniel Caines was crowned world indoor champion in the 400m and at the same event Mark Lewis-Francis shaped up for a season that would include the European junior 100m title and an appearance in Edmonton with bronze in the 60m.

Radcliffe’s 1:06:47 winning time – and golden retention – at the World Half Marathon Championships was a Championship record and the best time of 2001 while Kelly Holmes showed that sixth in the world in the 800m isn’t her as she claimed silver at the Grand Prix Final a month later in Melbourne.