Idowu Leaps at Chance of More Gold Highlights ; ATHLETICS. Maverick Triple Jumper Ready to Shed Image of Inconsistency
Simon Turnbull Athletics Correspondent, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)
It is past 5pm when Phillips Idowu finally clocks off for the day at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre. He has been here since 11am; in the gym, out on the track, in the physio room. Taking his seat in the foyer, his vest hides the tattoo that had been visible when he toiled bare-chested in the afternoon sun.
"They're roman numerals: 19-78," he says of the chest decoration. The year he was born, presumably? "No, the distance I'm going to jump," Idowu replies, collapsing into a laughing fit. "No, you're right," he continues, regaining his composure. "I was born in 1978."
For the time being, 17.68m is the farthest that Britain's maverick triple jumper has hopped, stepped and leaped. He has some way to go yet before he gets close to 18.29m, the world-record frontier occupied by Jonathan Edwards since 1995, let alone a fantasy distance to match his birth date. Still, the Belgrave Harrier with the big frame (6ft 3in) and the big talent undoubtedly has the potential to propel himself to the threshold of 18 metres.
The trouble is, since making his mark with sixth place in the Olympic final in Sydney seven years ago, Idowu has been a model of inconsistency in the international arena. In 2002 he pushed Edwards to the limit at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester; in 2004 he failed to register a valid jump in the Olympic final in Athens; in 2006 he struck gold at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in March but then finished fifth at the European Championships in Gothenburg five months later.
Even with his hit-and-miss record, though, it is fair to say that Idowu is Britain's best bet for a medal at the World Championships in Osaka in August. He was the highest-placed male British athlete in the world rankings last year (seventh) and in the 2007 indoor season he moved to the top of the global pecking order, ahead of Christian Olsson, Sweden's Olympic champion.
In taking the European indoor title in Birmingham in March, resisting a spirited challenge from his fellow Briton Nathan Douglas, an inspired Idowu eclipsed Edwards' championship record, uncorking a sparkling 17.56m jump in the first round. Everything about him that day seemed to glitter with gold, even his hair. "Nah, it wasn't gold," he says. "Not quite blond. That's the colour it was. It ain't the same now. This has got two tones in it."
As well as his colourful hair and tattoo, Idowu has a distinctive range of facial piercings, including two metal studs in his tongue which gently clack as he talks. The metaphorical bit also appears to be between the teeth of the affable north Londoner.
Just back from a warm-weather training camp in San Diego with his coach, John Herbert, he is so keen to get into action that he has arranged to compete in a 200m race in a British Athletics League fixture and in the long jump at the Inter Counties Championships over the course of the Bank Holiday weekend before contesting his first triple jump competition of the summer, against Douglas in the Norwich Union Glasgow Grand Prix a week today. …