In the concrete belly of Olympic Stadium, Jonathan Edwards is
running at full throttle, a boxed silver medal in the crook of
his arm as if it were a football. It is Sunday, one day after
Edwards finished second in the triple jump. He has come to the
stadium only for the medal ceremony, and now he must rush to
catch a flight home to England. He sees me and slows; a full,
joyous smile creases his face.
"Congratulations," I say. "You should be proud."
"I am, I truly am," he says. "Very much so."
Sometimes a crack develops in the thick wall that exists between
writer and subject, and a sprig of friendship grows through,
connecting them. I spent four days with Edwards last December at
his homes in Newcastle and London, reporting a feature story. In
the summer of 1995 he had broken the world record in the triple
jump three times, revolutionizing the event. His story was
doubly attractive because he was a humble, modest man of such
deep Christian beliefs that he had once refused to compete on
Sundays. He revealed himself as the antithesis of the modern
athlete--warm, feeling, genuine. During that visit I held his
sleeping infant son, Nathan, in my arms. He asked to see
pictures of my children and astutely identified my five-year-old
son, Kevin, as mayhem afoot, a quality I had already seen in his
three-year-old son, Sam.
August 11, 1996
We visited again in May, before a meet here in Atlanta, and by
then it was clear that the weight of expectation and celebrity
had cut profoundly into his joy. I saw him once more, at the
British training camp in Tallahassee, Fla., three days before
the opening ceremonies. His self-doubt had deepened to the point
that he had nearly walked away from a June meet in Madrid
without taking a jump, and at that point he considered leaving
the sport indefinitely. Edwards talked that day in Florida about
fear, about the crowd that would sit in Olympic Stadium for the
final, cheering for Americans, about the loneliness of being the
favorite. He recalled that I had said to him in May, "This
should be the greatest year of your life," and he promised to
try to make it so. But as always, he hoped for the best and
feared the worst. When an editor called me with the news of the
bombing in Centennial Park, the first athlete I thought of was
Edwards. His event was that night, and surely his fragile psyche
would be shaken.
On that night U.S. jumper Kenny Harrison, a brilliant athlete,
owned the competition, bouncing 59' 1/4" on his first jump.
Edwards struggled. He fouled on his first two attempts, but he
jumped 56'2 1/2" on his third attempt and then 58'8" on his
fourth, for the silver medal. He spoke afterward of the
insignificance of the competition in light of the bombing, and
of his delight at finishing second. He complimented Harrison.
There is a shoe-company billboard in Atlanta that reads: YOU
DON'T WIN SILVER. YOU LOSE GOLD. It is only advertising, but
nonetheless it affirms the poisonous notion that there is first,
and that everything else is last. Jonathan Edwards fought
through his own weakness and fear, and won a silver medal. As he
stood in the tunnel that Sunday evening, his eyes glowed with
"My best to your family," I said.
"My best to yours, as well," he answered.