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The day in Lille that changed Edwards forever

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When the eleven men line up for the triple jump in Lille Metropole on Sunday at the European Athletics Team Championships, they will be stepping into a path of track and field history.

Incredibly, exactly 22 years to the day, June 25 1995, Jonathan Edwards produced the greatest series of jumps the sport has seen in this same Lille-Metropole Stadium during the European Cup, the forerunner to the current event.

Nobody could have expected the outcome when Edwards, then 29, prepared for his second round jump having started with a wind-assisted 17.90m. What happened next was extraordinary.

With brilliant precision, speed, power and execution, Edwards, who had broken the British record with 17.58m a fortnight earlier in Loughborough, soared his way through the air and into the sandpit.

He knew it was big as he jumped up. He raised his hand to the crowd but even he could not believe it when the scoreboard flashed out 18.43m.

Edwards did not know what to do.

He celebrated with his fellow competitors before going over to the side of runway, sitting down and then putting a shirt over his head as he took in how far he had gone.

For record purposes, it would not count as a world record because there was a wind reading of 2.4 m/s - just over the legal limit - but prior to this moment, only American legend Willie Banks with 18.20m (+5.2) in 1988 and fellow countryman Mike Conley with 18.17m (+2.1), in winning the 1992 Olympic title in Barcelona, had ever broken 18 metres.

It was simply staggering from the 1993 world bronze medallist, who had been battling with the Epstein Barr virus the year before.

His only legal jump was his third round 17.72m which broke his British record and then, amazingly, he went to 18.39m, again slightly wind-assisted.

When he recalled this memorable afternoon in Lille in an interview with the Daily Telegraph a few years later, he revealed the wide-ranging effect it had on him.

“It was the single most amazing day of my career. It changed everything,” said Edwards. “I was instantly transformed from a 17.50m jumper to an 18.50m man.

“I had only been training since January and in March I was really down. The whole spectre of post-viral syndrome was hanging over me. All I wanted to do that season was re-establish myself.

“I remember having a particularly poor weights session three or four days before the European Cup and going to France full of doubts. Afterwards I struggled to the post-event banquet with terrible cramp and I woke up the next day with really stiff Achilles tendons. The rest is a bit of a blur.”

The rest is actually even more history because less than a month later, he broke Banks’ world record of 17.97m - which had stood for a decade - when he jumped 17.98m in Salamanca and then the following month came the crowning glory at the IAAF World Championships in Gothenburg.

No athlete had broken 18m legally before but Edwards did that with his first jump of 18.16m and then, sensationally, reached 18.29m with his second.

It is a world record which only American Christian Taylor has threatened, when he won the world crown in Beijing in 2015 with 18.21m.

Not that that will cross the minds of those on Sunday too much, in a field including Italy’s Fabrizio Donato, 40, who has a European lead of 17.32m this year, France’s Jean-Marc Pontvianne (17.13m) and Germany’s European champion Max Hess (17.02m).

But, you never know, it might just come up in conversation along the way.

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