The bridge that took Edwards from 57 feet to 60 feet was built partly in early 1995 when he spent a month in Tallahassee, Fla., getting into shape. He was recovering from a bout with the Epstein-Barr virus, which had ruined his 1994 season. Edwards began to tinker with his form, contemplating subtle changes. "I was at a dead end, so I felt the freedom to experiment," he says.
Upon returning to England in March '95, Edwards, who had been coached for a decade by Carl Johnson, also began working with Peter Stanley, a 42-year-old part-lime coach Edwards had befriended while watching him conduct Sunday afternoon training sessions. "We would chat about training, and we got along well," Edwards says. Stanley looked at Edwards's jumping through fresh eyes and helped renew his enthusiasm.
Stanley had accumulated a vast library of triple jump videos. One evening as Edwards sat on the floor of Stanley's den watching a tape of Conley's gold medal jump in Barcelona, he noticed an arm movement that he thought could assist him. He folded it into his technique. Two months later, in a minor meet in Leicestershire on a blustery day, he jumped 57'8¼", a British record. Two weeks later he uncorked his wind-aided 60-foot leap in Lille, and six weeks after that he broke Banks's world record.
Edwards's great leap forward was the result of more than improved mechanics, however. For two years he had been lifting weights with Norman Anderson, a legally blind 58-year-old power-lifter who operates out of a dingy public facility at Gateshead International Stadium, across the Tyne River from Newcastle. The clientele at Gateshead is such that one winter morning one of Edwards's fellow lifters was wearing a bulletproof vest.
"The local hoods love Jonathan," says Anderson, "and if anything, they watch out for him." The Gateshead workouts have given Edwards a toughness and a sinewy quickness. He can bench-press 245 pounds and clean 300. He has run 100 meters in 10.8 seconds, not slow but not spectacular either.
Edwards's skills are a good match for the triple jump. It is a strange event: The athlete jumps off one foot, lands on that same foot, jumps again and lands on the opposite foot and then jumps a third time into the sand. The event is awkward and jarring—"The most physically destructive event in track and field," says Coe. Triple jumpers routinely slow themselves as they reach the takeoff board. "Self-preservation kicks in," says Booth. "They know what happens once they start the sequence." Most jumpers bounce along the runway. Each time they land, they pause briefly but distinctly before making the next jump.
Edwards is entirely different. He runs full speed through the takeoff board and barely brushes the runway during his two landings, his plant foot snapping into the air in a breath. Where others bound, he skims, and he never slows. "He has mastered the concept of the skipping stone versus the bouncing ball," says Stanley. "The others think they have things that Jonathan lacks. But the way his foot strikes the ground is magical. They don't have that." It raises the question of what constitutes athleticism.
Conley understands. "There's no question I'm faster than Jonathan, and I can jump higher. But nobody is quicker. That's neurotransmitters, his brain telling his leg to get off the ground."
In the summer of '95 Banks watched from afar as his record fell, and he heard Edwards denigrated as a technical freak. It's what they used to say about Banks, that he was slow and earthbound, and he was. But he held the world record for 10 years. "This guy Edwards, he's got the secret," says Banks. "He's figured it out."
There is one more story to tell, because for every saga of personal and family sacrifice leading to fulfillment and Olympic medals there are dozens of tales that end in hollow disappointment. Four years ago, in Barcelona, that was Edwards's tale.