Edwards' barrier-breaking leap celebrates another anniversary

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards at the IAAF World Championships Gothenburg 1995

On a balmy summer’s evening exactly 24 years ago on Wednesday, Jonathan Edwards twice skimmed his way across the Mondo track laid down on the triple jump runway in Gothenburg’s Ullevi Stadium and bounded his way to near-immortality.

The 29-year-old Briton had arrived in the Swedish city as the world record-holder having jumped 17.98m in Salamanca, Spain a few weeks earlier and had also exceeded 18 metres four times in the summer of 1995 but each time with an excessive following wind for record purposes.

Consequently, anticipation was running high to see what he could deliver with a world title at stake and against a formidable field – with local interest provided by surprise finalist Tord Henriksson – and on this occasion the weather gods were smiling in his favour.

With his first jump, he fell into the sand beyond the measurement board, which itself extended just beyond 18 metres. To the delirium of the spectators on the far side of the stadium, it was obvious to the naked eye that a world record had been delivered and the scoreboard duly confirmed this when it flashed up his result of 18.16m.

Barely 10 minutes later, he took his second jump and it was visibly better than his first. Edwards shrugged his shoulders after exiting the pit, almost nonchalantly despite the fact that he knew he had gone into new territory, before the excitement descended as his distance of 18.29m became known, the first time ever two back-to-back world records had been achieved in the same triple jump competition.

Edwards was to take one further jump, a fifth effort of 17.49m, but that was almost anecdotal and by the time the six rounds had been concluded, in one competition, Edwards had added the massive margin of 31cm to the world record.

"My first emotion was relief that, as favourite, I had produced (on his first jump)," Edwards recalled on his return to the Ullevi Stadium in 2006 as the guest of honour at that year's European Athletics Championships.,

"And then came a wonderful extended peace and quiet while I wandered around in a daze and waited for the distance. I knew it was a bit special but it was only with the roar of the crowd that I knew how special. They saw the scoreboard before me."

"The second jump was pure celebration," he added. "It was a better jump, my step wasn't perfect in the first. I just knew it was longer. I didn't need the crowd to tell me. It all felt ridiculously easy."

For Americans – including Willie Banks who had jumped 17.97m on a Mondo track in Indianapolis and held the world record for 10 years until just a few weeks before when Edwards took possession of that accolade – that meant an improvement of more than a foot and Edwards had jumped a quarter-of-an-inch beyond the 60 foot barrier.

Gothenburg local organisers had eulogised the Mondo track in the stadium as being quick during the months before the championships had got underway  but the focus of attention had predominantly been on the track events.

Many sprinters were to prove them right, notably the Americans Michael Johnson and Kim Batten who respectively sped to a 200m/400m double triumph in 19.79 and 43.65 and a 400m hurdles world record of 52.61 during the course of the championships.

However, little attention had been paid to the attributes of the jumps run ups, although logic and contractual obligations dictated that it was obviously of the same material underfoot.

“If I never come within half-a-metre again, I will have no complaints,” joked Edwards in the immediate aftermath of his display, in which he also paid tribute   to the properties of the Mondo track which had been critical in helping his performance.

Jonathan Edwards
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Jonathan Edwards

The Briton was in world-record breaking form in Gothenburg's Ullevi Stadium

Of course, the track was the same for every jumper in Gothenburg, but subsequent biomechanical analysis showed Edwards was much faster on his approach run than all his rivals – with Bermuda’s  Brian Wellman taking the silver medal with a windy 17.62m to give Edwards the biggest winning margin at a global outdoor championships since the 1896 Olympics! – and managed to maintain his speed with a superior velocity through all three phases.

Edwards never jumped further, but then nor has anyone else in the 24 years since. However, he did jump 18 metres again and also went on to win the Olympic title in 2000 and a second world championships gold medal the following year, both of which were achieved on Mondo tracks.

However, in many people’s eyes the defining performance of Edwards’ career, was in Gothenburg at the 1995 IAAF World Championships and his distance achieved there remains a world and European record to this day.