Twenty years ago this week a “skinny-looking, very ordinary guy” - his own description - hit the take-off board in Gothenburg’s Ullevi stadium at high speed. By the time his effort came to an end he had left a mark in the sand which, while it was soon smoothed away by an official brush, remains to this day in the form of a world triple jump record of 18.29 metres. Jonathan Edwards, ordinary guy, had done something extraordinary.
It was, in fact, the second world record of the day at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championships for the 29-year-old Briton. He had opened up in the final by becoming the first man to better 18m with a following wind legal for record purposes, reaching 18.16m. His second round made him the first to better 60 feet.
Since those startling deeds of August 7, 1995 no one has come closer than 20 centimetres to Edwards’s best legal mark. The 18.09m jumped by home athlete Kenny Harrison at the following year’s Atlanta Olympics shifted Edwards, who had managed 17.88m, to the silver medal position. The Gateshead Harrier would have to wait another four years, until Sydney, to put that right…
The next five best marks of all-time have been set within the last two years as a new generation of triple jumpers approach the Edwards Summit like so many ambitious mountaineers.
But while Teddy Tamgho of France, who jumped 18.04m to win the 2013 world title in Moscow, Olympic champion Christian Taylor of the United States, who has jumped 18.04m and 18.06m in IAAF Diamond League meetings this year, and Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo, who has managed 18.06m and 18.08m this season, have all established camp at high altitude, they still have to negotiate the Everest North Ridge.
Not that Edwards raced headlong to the summit himself, of course. Before that transformational year of 1995, he had established a reputation as a world class athlete who was nevertheless never quite the sum of his parts.
Having won silver at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, he had gone to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in great shape - only to fail to qualify for the final, managing a best of just 15.76m. Within the month he had jumped 17.34m to win the World Cup athletics title in Havana.
The following year he won bronze at the Stuttgart World Championships, but 1994 proved barren for him and ended with a viral illness - Epstein-Barr syndrome - which was still hanging about until well into the New Year of 1995.
What looked like being another annus horribilis, however, turned into an annus mirabilis which saw Edwards, at Gothenburg, becoming an athlete who felt he could "jump as far as he needed to".
On the weekend of June 24 and 25, Edwards competed for Britain at the European Cup in Lille and produced the finest triple jumping performance the world had seen up to that point - and perhaps, still the best ever. No one who saw it - and I was happily present to report the event - will forget it.
Twice he jumped further than anyone before, only to see both efforts ruled out for record purposes by a cruelly capricious wind.
His longest jump, 18.43m, was 23cm further than the then wind-assisted best of 18.20m that Willie Banks had set in 1988, and would have obliterated Banks' legal world record of 17.97m. Edwards was smiling before he hit the sand.
There was mingled joy and disbelief on his face until a glance at the digital wind recording - at 2.4m per second, a mere breath above the legal maximum of 2m per second - put frustration in its place. When the staggering distance came up - 18.43m, which is 60ft 5 3/4 inches - Edwards put his head in his hands and then, overcome, sat with his shirt up over his face.
He had already seen his opening jump of 17.90m invalidated by a wind reading of 2.5m per second. And when the next competitor jumped the wind had dropped, teasingly, to a legal 1.5m per second.
Edwards' third jump, accompanied by a 0.5m per second reading, improved the British record of 17.58m he had set two weeks earlier to 17.72m. His reaction was a study in mixed emotion.
Incredibly in the circumstances, he raised his level of performance again with a last effort of 18.39m. This time the wind had risen, mockingly it almost seemed, to 3.7m per second. It was time to finish for the day. "I was very disappointed," he said. "I think my 18.43m was worth between 18.20m and 18.30m legal. It was certainly worth more than 17.97m."
In his early career, Edwards’ religious beliefs meant he refused to compete on Sundays. He missed the 1991 World Championships for this reason. But his subsequent decision to alter his position was paying off for him at this point, as he had set British records on two Sundays a fortnight apart.
Edwards had always had great speed - by 1995 he had covered 60m in 6.77sec and reckoned he was even quicker - but in the past he had been unable to control it.
For the 1995 season however, in conjunction with new technical coach Peter Stanley, he made several modifications. "In my last phase I am jumping further than before," he said. "I am using my arms actively rather than in reaction to what my legs are doing.
"In March I was really down," he said. "I had the spectre of post-viral syndrome hanging over me and all I wanted to do was re-establish myself this season."
He had done rather more than that in Lille. As team captain Linford Christie came off the track after adding a 100m title to the one over 200m he had earned the previous day. Edwards was one of the first to congratulate him. "Awesome, Linford," he said. "No," said the team captain. "You are awesome."
And so to Gothenburg, where everything went gloriously - one might say divinely - well for the committed Christian.
His qualifying competition was ideal. One jump of 17.46m - the best by 20cm - and the job was done with minimum effort.
By the time Edwards set off on his first run-up in the final, he had already cleared 18m four times in 1995 - only for each effort to be ruled out because of an illegally strong following wind. And after a spell of still, hot weather, conditions in Gothenburg had grown windy…
When he disturbed the sand beyond 18m with his first jump before leaping out of the pit with excitement - after all, wind assistance didn’t prevent gold medals being awarded - there was still an intense scrutiny of the wind gauge. It read 1.3m per second. Surely Edwards had at last cracked triple jump’s version of the Four Minute Mile?
The waiting seemed interminable, and Edwards sucked in his cheeks before biting on his knuckle as he stood beside the take-off board. The crowd, 35,000, reacted first to affirm his achievement as the figure of 18.16m came up. As when Bob Beamon flew to 8.90m in the 1968 Olympic long jump final in the thin air of Mexico, the contest had been killed with a single blow. Edwards now had his head in his hands.
Earlier in the week, Edwards had spoken of the pressure he was under: "Sometimes I feel like I’m going to jump 19m," he said. "Sometimes I feel I’m going to jump 10cm. Sometimes I just wish I was back at home…"
The weight was off him. And his second effort of the day was a matter of pure joy. As he stood up his reaction was to produce a gentle smile at what he had gone on to do in the steady afternoon sunshine. But when the mark came through - 18.29m, a quarter of an inch beyond the 60ft barrier - he sank to his knees.
As part of the work he had done with Stanley, Edwards had studied videotape of US jumper Mike Conley, gold medallist at the Barcelona Olympics in order to convert his speed into distance. This was a key part of his development of a technique which he was to find curiously elusive in later years, characterised as it was by a double arm shift, exaggerating the forward and backward swing of the arms as he approached the take-off board.
Conley, perhaps demoralised, could only manage seventh place with 16.96m. Edwards’s nearest challenger, Brian Wellman of Bermuda, was well over 0.5m adrift of him with 17.62m.
Edwards, who managed one other jump of 17.49m, thus took his place in the triple jump alongside two others who had broken the world record twice on the same day.
Viktor Saneyev, of Russia, did so to win the 1968 Olympic title, and Adhemar Ferreira da Silva, of Brazil, who was watching Edwards from the stands, did so to secure the 1952 Olympic title. Neither had managed the feat in successive jumps.
The morning after the evening before, Donovan Bailey, Canada's newly-established world 100m champion, wandered past the Hotel Opalen and paused to shake the hand of an athlete surrounded by cameramen and autograph hunters. His arrival did absolutely nothing to alter the focus of attention - Edwards, who was in the process of coming to terms with everything his stupendous performance would mean to his life.
Edwards's schedule after his jump was as gruelling as any training session. After a round of television and newspaper interviews, he spent more than two hours in doping - where he passed the time by chatting to the world decathlon champion, Dan O'Brien. It was past midnight when he left the stadium, and, after finding both the athletes' canteen and the local McDonald's shut, he got something to eat at his kit sponsor's hotel before getting to bed around 2am.
Less than six hours later he was up again for a satellite television interview at the Gothenburg Opera House. And then a radio interview. And then a breakfast television interview. And then a television interview standing on a Viking ship. And then another breakfast television interview. And then...
Reflecting on the notable under-performance of the then Olympic champion, Edwards commented: "I think it is a shock to some people when they see a skinny-looking, very ordinary guy come along and almost decimate the event."
And yet he insisted that his impact on the triple jump would have a predominantly positive, rather than negative, effect on other jumpers.
"Some people are so big in their event that they exude an aura, like Linford Christie, that almost makes other people back away from them," he said. "But the kind of person I am, people look at me and say: 'If he can do it, I can do it too.' I don't think I have any aura."
This was a judgement that was not backed up by the extraordinary response he had generated from the crowd. Or indeed from the two young boys whom I spotted leaving the Ullevi stadium practising hop, step and jumps.
Edwards's achievement sent shock waves through the event. Banks, the American who had held the record for 10 years before Edwards had broken it the previous month, responded with a verve which typified his career: "Holy Mackerel! The little devil!"
Jerome Romain, the bronze medallist, drew satisfaction from being involved in a special moment for athletics. "This triple jump competition is going to go down in history," he said. "I'm not the main character in the story but at least I'm part of it."
Edwards himself commented: "I don't feel that physically I'm right on the edge of what I am capable of." Asked if he felt 18.50m was a possibility, he replied equably: "Yeah," before adding: "I'm amazed at how I've done certain things considering my character. You hear about people like Sebastian Coe planning their careers from day one. It's never been like that for me.
"If I never come within half a metre of what I've done I can have no complaints," he said. "My life has been fantastic. I can only be thankful. I've had more in this life than I could have ever asked for, ever hoped for or ever deserved."