#4… Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards I always liked because he made a living out of leaping into sand. It’s comforting to know that such a thing is possible. More than this, though, much more, he was phenomenally good. At his best, and for a decent run of years, he was untouchable. You knew he would win, it was just a question of by how much. His world record triple-jump, of course, still stands – fifteen years later and counting. 18.29 metres: a number my silly head will apparently always find room for, just as it does for the height of Everest (8848 metres), my most incisive spell of off-‘spin’ bowling (3 overs, 0 maidens, 5 for 5), and a few other odd things similarly useless.
Back in the day (hard to imagine now), all sorts of athletic meets felt like an event not to be missed. But only on the same parochial terms: sufficient British runners/jumpers/throwers had to have a more than respectable chance of winning. Every time, it was the usual candidates. Colin Jackson in the 110 metre hurdles. Steve Backley in the javelin. Linford Christie sprinting and Sally Gunnell as the most-likely lady. There were others, of course, and good days and bad… But always, without fail, Edwards delivered most reliably; was farthest out there on his own.
Even better, the largest part of watching him was waiting. As with all other jumpers and throwers, he’d get a handful of goes, staggered through the night. At his high-peak especially – as in Gothenburg for his world record – this waiting could be electric, his every effort an event in itself. Everything else would stop with Edwards at the top of his run-up. Then, as ever, he’d start running like the wind, a mad focus etched upon his face. Would he take off before the line? Would he compute correctly a great anthology of movements? Would he nail the damn thing and fly beyond the 18 metre mark? Often, thrillingly, yes.
And he’s a Christian who finally thought better of it. I suppose you could ask for more, but it really would be greedy.