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Last Updated: Friday, 22 August, 2003, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Edwards ends with leap of faith
By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport in Paris

Jonathan Edwards
Edwards' faith meant more to him than medals
Jonathan Edwards was an unlikely sporting champion.

Skinny, grey-haired men who spend their spare hours immersed in the Bible are the sort you expect to find in public libraries, not atop Olympic medal podiums.

But from his first AAAs title, 14 years ago, Edwards was different.

Not for him the braggadocio, bleached hair or bulging biceps of a stereotypical athlete.

Edwards looks every inch the vicar's son that he is. This is a man who, even in announcing his retirement, found time to mention God before finishing his first sentence.

Sometimes, as when he soared over 18 metres in Gothenburg in 1995, it seemed as if the angels themselves were carrying him through the air.

That was the year when Edwards started producing miracles on the triple jump runway.

He had always been a world-class competitor, but there was nothing about the then 29-year-old's career that indicated he was about to rewrite the record books.

In the space of a few weeks, he took the event to undreamt-of heights, first setting a new world best by just a centimetre in Salamanca, and then, at the World Championships in Sweden, utterly destroying the old mark.

In the first round he sailed out to 18.16m, the first man ever to break the 18m barrier.

EDWARDS' CAREER HIGHS
1989: UK and AAA titles
1994: AAA title, Commonwealth silver
1995: June Wins European Cup with wind-assisted 18.43m - longest jump in history.
July World record - 17.98m
August Worlds gold - world record
December Awarded MBE, BBC Sports Personality of Year
1996: Olympic silver
1997: Worlds silver
1998: European gold
1999: Worlds bronze
2000: Olympic gold
2001: Worlds gold
2002: Commonwealth gold

With the stadium still echoing with excitement, he bowled down the runway and flew even further - to 18.29m, the first 60ft jump in history.

It was scarcely believable that a man so slight, so reserved, so ordinary-looking, could be responsible for the brutal destruction of the status quo.

It was an era in athletics when British fans were used to associating success with the massively muscled torso and vest-off pyrotechnics of Linford Christie.

It came as a shock to discover that the new hero of the sport looked like the geeky kid at college who never once visited the student bar and was always on time for lectures.

Edwards the athlete was inseparable from Edwards the Christian.

Religion undoubtedly helped him cope with the pressures that fame brought. Whether it also prevented him from winning even more medals is a moot point.

Edwards himself would dismiss that argument without a second thought. But in the aftermath of the successes of 1995, when as overwhelming favourite he failed to win Olympic gold in Atlanta or add to his world titles in 1997 and 1999, there were those who asked the question.

Chris Boardman, a man who sacrificed everything in his pursuit of cycling excellence, told me after Atlanta that he could not understand why Edwards was not more disappointed after only taking bronze in Atlanta.

I had a plan to carry on to the Olympics - but God directed my path
Jonathan Edwards

His theory was that, as Edwards' self-confessed priority was God, defeat in a mere athletics competition did not hurt him enough.

Sure, he would have preferred gold - but at the end of the day, his faith meant more to him than medals.

Of course, Edwards went on to take that precious Olympic gold in Sydney four years later, and that is maybe the best reply he could have given.

Regardless of what happens in Saturday's qualifying at the Stade de France, whether he makes Monday's final and manages to bow out with an unlikely gold, he will be remembered as one of the greatest athletes Britain has produced.

If he was cut from a different cloth from his peers, so be it. To the end he remained his own man.

Not for Edwards a season of endless farewells, dragging the goodbyes out and milking the applause for all it was worth.

Instead he went out in his own inimitable style - by quoting the Bible.

"Proverb 16, verse nine says 'a man devises a plan in his heart, but God directs his paths'," he said.

"I had a plan, while I was competitive, to carry on to the Olympics. But God directed my path. So now is the time to stop. I'll jump here, and that will be the end of my career."





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