Steve Smythe analyses the career of the man who has held the world triple jump record for 25 years
You could have got long odds that the athlete who had finished sixth in the 1994 European Championships and had been 23rd and 35th in his two Olympic appearances would dominate the triple jump over the next few seasons and still hold the world record 25 years later.
This was especially so as at the end of the 1994 season Jonathan Edwards was diagnosed with the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus. At the age of 28 and after 13 years of triple jumping, he could have easily retired as a very good but not great athlete. Fortunately he carried on!
During a stupendous 1995 he dominated the event and smashed the world record. He was never quite as dominant in future years but he added an Olympic and a further world title in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
The key to Edwards’ success was his speed. His last two strides were faster than the quadruple Olympic long jump champion Carl Lewis was recorded at in his approach to the take off board and the American had a 9.78 100m PB!
The Briton’s final medal count is:
» One Olympic gold and one Olympic silver
» Two World Championships golds, one silver and two bronzes
» One European Championships gold and one bronze
» One Commonwealth gold and two silver
» Six European Cup wins and one second and one third
» Two World Cup wins and a third
» One Goodwill Games win
» One European Indoor gold
» One World Indoor silver
» Four AAA titles (1989, 1994, 1998 and 2001, plus he was also first Briton in 1991)
» One English Schools title (15.01m in 1984)
He missed the 1991 World Championships and 1989 European Cup Final as they were on Sundays and that went against his religious beliefs at the time.
He topped the world rankings in 1995, 1998 and 2000-2002 and was second in 1996 and 1999 and third in 1997 and 2003.
The average of his 10 best competitions is 17.954m which has been surpassed by Christian Taylor – just – with 17.961m, but it’s worth noting that Edwards did jump 18.16m and 18.29m in the same competition which would put him clearly ahead if you could count the 18.16m.
Below we cover six of his most memorable events, though you will need to be an AW magazine subscriber to see numbers seven to 15 in the AW Clubhouse here.
1 1995 World Championships, Gothenburg, August 7
1st 18.29/1.3 (world record)
He went into the event as the world record-holder with 17.98m and then in the first round he made history with an 18.16m leap. That was made up of phases of 6.12m, 5.19m and 6.85m.
He was not finished though as in the second round he put together a more modest opening hop of 6.05m, followed by a step of 5.22m which left him four centimetres down on his opening jump, but this time he produced a superb 7.02m jump to add 13 centimetres to his record from 15 minutes earlier.
He passed three of the last four rounds but did jump 17.49m in the fifth round. He won gold by a huge 67 centimetres (more than two feet) – it was the biggest winning margin in a global event for 99 years!
His dominance (he won all 14 competitions) won him the IAAF athlete of the year and BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.
2 1995 European Cup, Lille, June 25
The longest triple jump in history came before Edwards was a world record-holder. In the first round he jumped a wind-assisted PB of 17.90m to be in the vicinity of the then legal world record held by Willie Banks of 17.97m.
However, that was nothing compared to his second round jump. The wind was only slightly over the limit at 2.4m/sec but it was measured at an astonishing 18.43m and actually from toe to heel was in the region of 18.60m.
The wind dropped in the third round (0.5) which allowed him to set a British record of 17.72m.
In the next round he proved that the 18.43m was not a one-off as he jumped 18.39/2.4 – far and away the second longest jump in history.
The winning margin was an exceptional 1.29m as Jacek Butkiewicz was second with a wind-assisted 17.14m.
3 2000 Olympics, Sydney, September 25
After winning the world title in 1995, Edwards had to settle for the minor medals in the next three global championships. In Sydney, he was competing in his fourth Games but at 34 years old, he knew it was his last chance to add an Olympic title.
He went in as favourite as the world leader with 17.62m but started disappointingly with a 17.12m leap. He improved to 17.37m in the second round to take the lead but Denis Kapustin responded with a 17.46m.
In the third round, Edwards improved his world lead to 17.71m and that was enough for victory and for him to become the oldest ever champion at the event.
Cuban Yoel Garcia improved to 17.47m to take the silver medal in the last round as two other Britons – Larry Achike and Phillips Idowu – made the top six.
4 2001 World Championships, Edmonton, August 6
Edwards’ bid to regain the title started badly and he only made the final with his last jump of the qualifying round.
He also started badly in the final with a modest 16.84m, followed by a huge foul.
He got it right though in the third round and his 17.92m was the longest jump in the world for three years.
It’s worth noting his two opening phases of 5.97m and 5.43m gave him a clear advantage on his equivalent world record jump but he was only able to produce a 6.52m last phase.
Christian Olsson finished a distant second with 17.47m and the Swede would inherit Edwards’ world title in 2003 with a 17.72m leap as Edwards bowed out in his final competition with a 12th and last place.
5 1998 European Championships, Budapest, August 23
After a few relative disappointing seasons he bounced back in 1998, a year in which he had earlier won the European Indoor Championships and Goodwill Games, but his big target was this event.
He was a class apart and won by over half a metre with a still-standing championships record of 17.99m from the defending champion Kapustin (17.45m).
It was to be his fourth-best winning mark.
6 1996 Olympics, Atlanta, July 27
He went into Olympic year as a huge favourite but Kenny Harrison, the 1991 world champion, was clearly in stunning form, winning the US trials with a wind-assisted 18.01m.
The American started the Olympic final with an Olympic and American record of 17.99m while Edwards struggled with two fouls though stayed in the contest with a 17.13m third round.
The Briton showed better form in round four with a 17.88m leap but Harrison responded by improving his Olympic record to 18.09m – the third best jump of all time after Edwards’ record leaps.
The Briton hit back with two 18m leaps of his own but they were both fouls and his 22-win streak came to an end, with the minor consolation of easily the greatest non winning performance in history.
Edwards did gain revenge in his next five competitions at Zurich, Gateshead, Berlin, Brussels and the IAAF GP Final in Milan which at least won him the Track and Field News top spot in the merit rankings.
To read moments numbered seven to 15 in the AW Clubhouse here, you need to be an AW subscriber.
» Find an interview with Jonathan Edwards in the December edition of AW magazine as he reflects on his world record performance. Click here to order a copy of that special diamond anniversary issue
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