| If he has any fear at all, it’s that age is suddenly going to jump out from the stands and say no further, feels Edwards
“Shall we sit in the garden to do the interview'” Jonathan Edwards asked. “Sounds good to me,” I said. He stood on his patio and looked up to the greying sky: “Is it OK out here for you, it’s not too cool'” I wanted to say: “You’re the one with the World Championships in Paris only four weeks away, sitting in a cool breeze is mercifully now no longer a problem for me.”
He again stared at the sky as the rain began to spit with a momentary air of irritation at his maker. With the battle of wills lost, we retired to his spotless kitchen.
Edwards, the Olympic champion and world record holder for the triple jump, is the best field eventer that England has produced, and at the age of 37 is now buying his ticket from station to station. “Paris will be very important for me, it will probably determine whether I carry on to Athens next year, although it’s very difficult not to at least imagine starting out this winter to train for the Olympics. I suppose Athens is an aspiration.”
Edwards smiles mischievously at his last thought. “It’s a sort of Blair aspiration which doesn’t really commit me to anything,” he said.
He lives a modest, and I’m guessing, well ordered life in a comfortable Newcastle suburb with his wife and two young sons and although there is a clear emotional attachment to the area he is not obviously hewn from the local athletic landscape.
Born in London, Edwards studied physics at Durham University and remained in the region to work with coach Carlton Johnson and not long afterwards joined Gateshead Harriers and Athletics Club, where a cry for help to counter over-rotating step phases was likely to be met by the blunt advice to go and run 20 miles on the road and join the boys for a few pints afterwards.
I remember sitting a few rows behind Brendan Foster’s inner circle of training partners and friends all impatiently waiting for the great man to run in the Amateur Athletic Association’s 10,000 metres final at Crystal Palace in the late Seventies. A few yards in front of them the qualifying rounds for the men’s long jump were taking place. One of Foster’s closest and most trusted advisers organised a sweepstake for the long jump competition.
Not the length of the jump but how quickly they could sprint down the runway. The spectators sitting about them could not understand why this little group of field event aficionados became so animated well before the jumpers displaced the sand.
The irony of joining Gateshead is not lost on Edwards: “I enjoy reminding them that I’m the first athlete from around these parts to win an Olympic title.”
After winning the World Championships in Gothenburg in 1995 and becoming the first athlete to jump over 18m and twice breaking his world best in the space of 20 minutes with jumps of 18.16 and 18.29, he had to wait another five years to “win another global title”.
Nevertheless, in the clubhouse at Gateshead it is still one removed from winning the national cross-country title.
Edwards is a man in transition and openly admits that he is now accepting offers and taking directions that are not conducive to the tunnel vision needed for world titles.
“Before the European Championships in Munich last year I was talking in terms of reaching that stage in my career where I had nothing else to prove and just enjoying the competition. If I’m being honest I was using words which I didn’t necessarily believe. In reality, international competition is excruciating and often very disappointing, at this level so much rests on just one major competition a year.
He now has only one eye on the narrow strip of green Plasticine that so often and so cruelly marks the difference between winning and losing in his event. His other eye is firmly focussed on a career in broadcasting. “I don’t want to be a famous athlete who then went on to dabble in other things. I know there are no shortage of opportunities once I’ve retired but I’ve got to convert them successfully.
“Can I develop another career in the way I developed in athletics' Can I start out again as a 20-year-old jumping 15 metres and finishing with a world record'”
On early showing Edwards, the son of a vicar, has made an assured start with a television career that is more likely to take him to religion than a spot in the BBC’s athletics commentary box, which has recently become the Eastbourne for retired athletes.
Is the sport in good shape' “Compared to where we were in 1997, when we went into administration, I think we’ve done remarkably well and a lot of that is due to Dave [Moorcroft, chief executive of UK Athletics], but we do suffer from the coverage of drug use which is often over-stated in the media.
That’s why it’s so important we have Paula [Radcliffe], who can show the world that you can win naturally through hard work and talent, although I said at the time I wasn’t happy about her demonstration banner at the World Championships at Edmonton about the use of EPO.
“I think some of our athletes complain about drug use when they are under achieving and it seems a bit like sour grapes.”
And Denise Lewis' “Actually I’m supportive of Denise and believe she has the right to choose her own coach. It’s just too easy to consign everything that went on in the Soviet bloc to the bin. There was a massive repository of knowledge and they were all children of their time. I believe in rehabilitation rather than retribution.
In Paris next month, the challengers for Edwards’ world title, including the brilliant young Swede Christian Olsson, will be circling and sniffing for his vulnerability. “If I’m fast enough, strong enough and technically better and have something left in the tank, of course I can win,” he said.