The comparison with Liddell troubled Edwards. To him faith was subject to each man's interpretation. So in the spring of 1993, after much study and contemplation, Edwards began competing on Sundays. It was a difficult, emotionally trying decision. His parents publicly supported him but struggled with the shift. "It made us evaluate our own thinking," says Jill. She imagined a thrashing by the British media: "I feared what people would say, with Jonathan changing his mind after taking this stand."
The decision "was very much between my conscience and God," Edwards says. It was not until a few months after he announced his new position that he finally saw Chariots of Fire. "The movie portrayed sports as something a religious person should not do [on the Sabbath]," he says. "What I do in sport comes out of my dedication to God. Maybe there was a conflict for Liddell; I do not have that conflict."
The film left Edwards with an affinity for one of the athletes portrayed: not Liddell but Abrahams, whose athletic vision never wavered. "Single-minded, pretty professional," says Edwards. "I warmed to that."
The learning never ceases. The summer of 1995 was sensational for Edwards: He won all 14 of his meets, thrice broke the world record and, not coincidentally, earned more than $400,000, nearly four times what he had made in 1994. His appearance fee, once $2,000 per meet, now approaches $20,000. Yet this sudden success led Edwards to ask himself a question: Why me? "There are many people who make a great deal of effort and never get anywhere," he says. "What I've done puts me apart, and I wonder why it's happened."
This question was never more intimate and anguishing than it was late last spring. On May 22, three days after Jonathan's second son, Nathan, was born, Jonathan's brother, Tim, the secondary school teacher, and his wife, Anna, had their first child, a daughter named Zoe. In early June doctors discovered that Zoe had hydrocephalus (water on the brain) exacerbated by a cyst and needed emergency surgery to drain the cyst. The operation was performed two weeks later. As Tim and Anna sat in the hospital coffee shop during the surgery, Tim read a breathless newspaper account of a wind-aided 60'5¾" jump by Jonathan in Lille, France. Tim recalls, "I said to Anna, 'This is positively bizarre. Our daughter is 400 meters away having brain surgery, and I'm reading about Jonathan's jump.' "
It was no less confusing to Jonathan. "Alongside our joy and celebration has been their heartbreak," he says. In September, Zoe underwent a second operation, in December a third, and now she is healthy. A picture of Zoe and Nathan, doughty infants leaning against each other, sits on a table in Andy and Jill's home. "Look at them," says Andy. "You would never know."
And Jonathan will never know why the children's paths—and his and his brother's paths—were so different. "You can ask the question," he says, "but there aren't any simple answers."
On a warm midwinter afternoon Conley is sitting at Pete's Place, a chicken-fried-steak-and-mashed-potatoes joint in Fayetteville, Ark. Conley, 33, is the most imposing athlete ever to attempt the odd mechanics of the triple jump. In high school in Chicago he was a basketball star; his vertical jump is a Jordanesque 40 inches. He has also run the 200 meters in a world-class 20.12 seconds. Track and field experts long assumed that Conley would be the first man to go 60 feet in the triple jump. "I assumed it, too," says Conley. "I let years go by assuming it."
This is what other triple jumpers think of Edwards: He sneaked up on them. The effect of his record jumps has been not to demoralize his peers but to energize them. "You sit there watching, and you think that if Edwards can do it, why can't I?" says Wellman. "What does this guy have that I don't? Is he blazing fast or incredibly strong or [able to] jump real high? It's a wake-up call for all of us."
All of us would be "the Arkansas boys," as Andy Edwards calls Conley, Wellman, Romain and U.S. jumper Erick Walder, all of whom are living and training for the Summer Games in Fayetteville. They are under the tutelage of veteran Razorbacks jumps coach Dick Booth, the guru of the Edwards-is-vulnerable theory. "I've got guys here who are faster and more athletic than Jonathan," says Booth. "Now he has shown us what we have to do."