Triple jump titans ready for battle

By Ronald McIntoshBBC Sport
The triple jump heats up this summer

Spending time with triple jumpers Phillips Idowu and Teddy Tamgho while filming for British Olympic Dreams, the overall impression I was left with is how similar the two rivals are.

You try to avoid going in to an assignment with preconceptions, but this was an outcome I hadn't anticipated.

Unsurprisingly, they both demonstrate traits that are evident in most champion athletes: an abundance of ability, honed in the quest for perfection by a fierce work ethic and a determined desire to be the best.

Both men were diligent in their attention to detail and strived to execute every aspect of their training routines with exemplary form.

Paris crowd go wild for Tamgho's world record leap (UK only)

What I wasn't expecting, however, was for Tamgho to be as quiet and considered as he was during the time we spent together.

The Frenchman's bold proclamations ahead of competitions and his high-energy style of jumping - complete with grandiose gesticulations, almost incessant chatter and near perpetual motion inbetween jumps - had all lead me to expect a larger than life character in the flesh.

However, he explained that all of those antics are the preserve of Teddy Tamgho the performer. Teddy Tamgho the man is a different proposition altogether.

"I like to put on a show," he explained earnestly (in perfect English, incidentally, although he at times slipped into fluent Spanish when searching for a word, rather than his native French).

"It gives me the power to jump. When I talk, it creates pressure and I like the pressure.

"Without the pressure, I can't jump. Off the track, I am more tranquil, more quiet."

And this is the Tamgho that I encountered, a low-key, almost studious individual who bears little resemblance to the high-octane performer we witness on the triple jump runway.

He possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of his event's history and a deep level of respect for his contemporaries and predecessors.

He remains steadfast in his desire to become a great champion in his own right.

But rather than believing that a place amongst the triple jump greats is a mere formality - he's already the third furthest jumper of all-time - he's acutely aware that any such exaltation will have to be earned with plenty of hard work and a fair slice of good fortune, not least to remain healthy.

"I fear injury," says Tamgho. "In the life of an athlete, injury is always close by and can ruin your plans."

Idowu is all too familiar with the devastating, debilitating effects injury can have on an elite athlete, no matter how talented. The Londoner missed most of the 2005 season due to ill-health, and he concedes that the frustration almost caused him to quit the sport altogether.

"I hated that time," Idowu reminisced painfully. "But that's what experience is. You have to go through those lows."

Phillips Idowu
Britain's Phillips Idowu will be jumping for gold at London 2012

Having emerged from those dark, depressing days, Idowu has gone on to garner every major title available to him, with the notable exception of the Olympic crown, where he was consigned to silver by a margin of 5cm in Beijing.

But he now occupies the enviable position of being the reigning World and European champion outdoors and seems to bestride his sport with the serenity of an elder statesman.

He won the World and European titles with personal best performances and so is secure in the knowledge he can produce his best under the pressure of a championship final.

Both men enter this embryonic outdoor season on a high. You can't discount other athletes in the fiercely competitive discipline, but a fascinating showdown between Idowu and Tamgho; between the outdoor World and European Champion and his indoor counterpart; between experience and youth, promises to be one of the highlights of this season's athletics.

Their off-track styles may be low-key, but I think we can expect fireworks in the triple jump when these two friendly rivals face off.

Watch the next installment of British Olympic Dreams for interviews with cyclist Mark Cavendish, taekwondo world champion Sarah Stevenson and more this Saturday on BBC One at 1300 BST. Also on the BBC News Channal on Saturday at 2030 BST and Sunday at 0130 BST and 2230 BST.