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Golden Idowu wins Le Crunch

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Tom Fordyce | 22:33 UK time, Thursday, 29 July 2010

Great Britain v France, part deux.

If Wednesday night and the searing finish of Christophe Lemaitre had put France 1-0 up, Thursday night was the second leg of the cross-Channel contest. In one corner, world champion Phillips Idowu, struggling all season; in the other, another Gallic tyro, Teddy Tamgho, big breakthrough star of athletics in 2010.

If Lemaitre is precocious, 21-year-old Teddy has already delivered. World indoor champion with a world indoor record, in New York in June he stunned the sport by producing 17.98 metres - making him the third longest jumper in history.

As the athletes lined up to be introduced to the Barcelona crowd, tip-toeing through the puddles on the blue runway, the contrast could not have been greater.

Idowu, poker-faced, responded to the cheers of the big British contingent with a muted wave. Tamgho, a ball of bouncing energy, took one look at the massed ranks of French fans with their painted faces and frantically waving tricolores and sprung away like Tigger on a trampoline.

"I'm a gorilla," Tamgho had said in the build-up. "But Phillips is a panther."

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Conditions were so miserable a dolphin might have fancied their chances. Thunderstorms had battered the Estadio Olimpico all afternoon, leaving the runway soaked and the take-off board slippy. A stiff wind blew into the jumpers' faces.

Idowu deals with such slings and arrows with his own strange routine. As I discovered recently, before a competition he finds inner calm by playing a track and field game app on his iPad and popping his way through a large sheet of bubblewrap. At the track he dons a lucky white headband and red sweatbands, spares of both in his kitbag just in case.

In the words of his coach Aston Moore, the plan was simple: "Hit Tamgho hard early and make the stress settle in." Into a nasty headwind of 1.3m/sec, he did exactly that - 17.46m, fractionally down on his best all year. First blow landed.

Tamgho had barely sat down. Skinsuit open to the sternum, eyes out on stalks, he hammered down the runway, every bit as raw and rough as Phillips had been controlled. Way short of the board, with a huge step phase and ropey leg shoot, he was more than 30 centimetres down.

His next was better. After Phillips had improved by one centimetre, outwardly at least impervious to the pressure and noise, Tamgho hit the board with an audible thunk and sailed out to 17.42m.

Trackside, his coach Laurence Bily gave a Gallic shrug. Comme ci, comme ca.

Idowu barely blinked. A glance at Moore, a touch of the gold crucifix hanging round his neck and another robotically consistent leap - 17.40m.

The British fans puffed out their cheeks. With a warm breeze blowing away the black clouds, conditions were improving. The runway was drying up. The lead was in danger.

At 31, Idowu is starting to feel like the elder statesman of his event. After watching Tamgho struggle at the European Team Championships in Bergen earlier this summer, he advised his young rival to stay calmer between rounds, to conserve energy. In response, Tamgho had called him the "big brother" of triple-jump.

In his first European final, the wonderkid seemed to have forgotten the lesson. He was hyperactive, pacing up and down the back straight, all twitches and tenterhooks.

"In championships it's important not to reflect too much," he had said earlier in the week. "You just have to run and jump and not think about it."

Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you do have to stop and think about it and ask yourself if you're doing it right.

The self-confessed gorilla attempted to ape his main rival. From his bag he pulled out a lucky white headband of his own and pulled in on at an endearingly wonky angle. A red sweatband to match Phillips' was tugged up over the right elbow.

It seemed to make things worse. He fouled by a long margin, and then fouled again. Needing way less than in the Big Apple, he seemed to be aiming for the stars, trying too hard and falling well short.

By contrast, Idowu was a study in control. A cushion of five centimetres shouldn't be that comfortable, but he was locked in his routine, going through the same tried and tested motions that he had used in Berlin a year ago when he took that world crown.

Then, in the fourth round, it all came together. In Berlin he had conjured up a personal best just when he needed it most; in Barcelona he found the magic ingredients again.

A jump of 17.81m, even 11.2cm shy on the board. The arms went up, the tongue-stud poked out between grinning lips. Coach Moore, twice a bronze medallist himself at the Commonwealth Games, looked up at the dark sky and allows himself a little grin.

That should have been that. Most jumpers fatigue through a competition. It's rare to produce your best at the death. But Idowu knew he could not relax.

At the World Indoors last March, Tamgho had trailed going into his final attempt, only to overhaul Yoandri Betanzos with a new world indoor record of 17.90m. His spectacular leap in New York? On his last jump.

For his last sally, he added another sweatband to the other arm, pulling it high on to the bicep and gesticulating at his compatriots in the crowd to roar him down the runway.

It never happened. To rub salt in the wound, Romania's Marian Oprea out-jumped him at the death for silver.

Idowu tried to take his final jump, but the waterworks had started and he waved the judges away. There was a hug from Tamgho, a Union flag from a British supporter in the crowd and then two laps of honour, just to be on the safe side.

"It's been a tough tough year," he said afterwards. "I always work hard, and... I can't even speak. I knew back in March, the way Teddy was jumping, I'd knew a PB to win. I think me and my coach got it right - we just planned for this day."

Watching in the stands for BBC Sport was Jonathan Edwards, European champion himself 12 years ago and the man whose world record mark Tamgho may one day threaten.

"It is about producing your best when it matters the most and Phillips has done that," he said.

"On the back of a tricky season, when he hasn't looked 100%, I honestly didn't think he
was going to win. I thought Teddy was going to take gold. But Phillips really dominated from the start. In conditions that weren't good - it was wet, and they were going into the wind - he was outstanding.

"Teddy will jump those big distances in future and will come to London in 2012 as a more experienced competitor and he will be a handful. Make no mistake - the Frenchman is here to stay.

"Phillips hasn't been in the greatest of shape, he has had injury problems, but it has come right on the day. I always wanted to go into major championships knowing my best form was in the bag but Phillips hasn't had that coming here. So to do what he did was very mentally tough.

"We did criticise him a bit earlier in his career - he fouled out in the 2004 Olympics, didn't do very well at the 2005 Worlds in Helsinki, and again at the 2007 Worlds in Osaka. But that was by far the best performance I have seen him produce."

Earlier there had been more good news for the British supporters to cheer, Martyn Bernard snatching a surprise bronze in a tough high jump competition and performing an impromptu dance with his umbrella as the stadium PA played Singin' In The Rain.

The French eventually had a little fun of their own too, when Romain Barras took decathlon gold and Lemaitre came out for his 100m medal ceremony. But this was Britain's, and Phillips', night.

Break out the bubblewrap. Great Britain 1, France 1.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great competition :) Good report :) Terrible pun :(

  • Comment number 2.

    I may well have gone a little 'over the top' on this previously, but I do wish that Jonathan Edwards would be a little more supportive of Phillips Idowu and give him more credit for being the Commonwealth Games, World Champion and now European triple jump champion. I have no idea if there is any 'history' between the pair but I thought Jonathan could refrain from regularly using the phrase 'when I set my world record' when he is on air. We all know that he was the greatest ever triple jumper, but Olssen did beat him in the end.

    The piece he did to camera last night was very much along the lines of Teddy Tamgho is the 'real deal' and it is just a matter of time before he overtakes Idowu.
    There were hints that perhaps all is not right when Idowu in his post-event interview with Phil Jones commented on 'those who doubt my ability and my gold medals'. Who was he alluding to, I wonder? In the studio John Inverdale, Colin Jackson, Michael Johnson and Denise Lewis all shook their heads and insisted: 'We've never said anything' so who is it that Idowu is refering to?

  • Comment number 3.

    I can't claim to be a triple jump expert but Teddy Tamgho does have incredible potential and it is just a matter of whether he stays fit as to if he'll break Edwards record. He was all over the place with his jumps, and much like Usain Bolt you can pick out many flaws in his technique. This doesn't stop him jumping mid 17s with an absolute mess of a jump. Incredible.

    As for Idowu, when he jumped 17.81m he sealed his place in history as one of the top triple jumpers of all time. A real performer now, roll on Delhi.

  • Comment number 4.

    Tamgho completely lost his focus and as mentioned made the mistake of wasting energy between jumps, but also of overdoing the showmanship: save the showboating for golden league meetings Teddy; when you're aiming for gold you need all the focus you can get.

    Kind of agree with comment # 2 re Jonathan Edwards. What Edwards needs to remember is that he too had some memorable flops before finally winning his big gold medals, and that Idowu's medals cabinet is starting to look as good as his. Idowu will never better Edwards' world record though. Tamgho might...

  • Comment number 5.

    Nice piece, 17.98 not the third longest jump in history though it's about the 8th longest with Harrison and Edwards having multiple efforts farther than 17.98.

    One completely unrelated comment about the BBC, am I the only one that gets embarrassed by Michael Johnson speaking total sense and then listening to Jackson and Lewis talking utter biased rubbish all the time!

  • Comment number 6.

    Agree 100% with the second para of comment #5.

    Jackson and Lewis seem to be nice people and obviously spend a lot of time making sure they look good on TV, but rarely say anything which provides real insight. Michael Johnson makes them look amateurish and out of their depth........ which they are!

    Steve Backley and Darren Campbell on Radio 5 Live would be much better than the current British duo on the BBC TV coverage of Athletics.

    I cringe every time Colin Jackson makes a contribution! Full of enthusiasm, but no ability as a commentator/summariser.

  • Comment number 7.

    5- Tom stated that he is now the 3rd longest JUMPER! not the 3rd longest jump. There is a subtle difference!

  • Comment number 8.

    #7 this is not true he actually wrote jump but they have subsequently changed it to jumper, I double checked before making my, frankly pedantic comment!

  • Comment number 9.

    Hats off to Dalgrush - he was absolutely right, and the correction followed soon afterwards. We'll call it teamwork...

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree with #5 Jackson is embarrasing (and camp!!!)

  • Comment number 11.

    Congratulations to Phillips Idowu. Great jumping under pressure. With regards to the pundit debate Michael Johnson is frankly the only one worth listening too! Denise Lewis and Colin Jackson seem to be included as little more than patriotic flag wavers!

  • Comment number 12.

    Michael Johnson is a class act. I like Lewis though too..I think she knows her stuff and is eloquent. On the other hand, Jackson is poor..I honestly don't think he knows what's coming out of his mouth..the amount of times I've chuckled at his incorrectly-formed sentences and his canny ability to state the obvious!

    Nice guy but not up to standard and whether he's camp or not is neither here nor there

  • Comment number 13.


    I think it is here and there

  • Comment number 14.

    @12 and 13 Name a British born TV pundit on the BBC (Or other channels) that does offer anything more than patriotic flag waving and dull 'safe' opinions.

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with #2 - both about Idowu and Edwards' grudging praise and back-handed compliments. Idowu has turned into a real championship performer. He has now achieved season's best leaps in the last 3 major championships in a row, and won a gold medal in each of the last 5 years including 2 world titles. He took some stick for losing in Beijing, but he was world number one going into the final with the world-leading leap that year, then bettered it in the final. That was no flop.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Totally agree with Tim No. 15. I'm really glad Idowu has nailed two major titles. I can remember after he collected the silver in Beijing everyone saying it wasn't what was expected (remember Edwards 'only' collected silver in Atlanta 1996 and went on to get the gold in Sydney 2000 - at around the same age I might add.) People also seem to forget that Edwards didn't reach the top of the tree until relatively late in his career too.

    It'll be tough to maintain this kind of form through to 2012 but Idowu showed last night that he can handle the new challengers (this time in the shape of Tamgho) and come out on top when it counts.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why the English are always making a comparison with the French? It seems an obsession...I heard that on the BBC television and see it on this blog now. I find this sterile.
    France won over GB with 8 gold medals, so what? Does it make the Championships a failure for GB this time??

    I have a question: why for athletics Wales, Northern Ireland & Scotland (?) are united with England? And why not at football...? Just being curious. Is it to have a better chance over the French?


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