Jonathan Edwards' triple jump | The fractals of a double world record
In his Into the Woods, the British TV producer John Yorke presents his Theory of Fractals to everyone who’s interested in understanding how to write a story:
Stories are built from acts, acts are built from scenes and scenes are built from even smaller units called beats. […] Stories are formed from this secret ministry; the endless replication of narrative structure is going on within acts, and within scenes.John Yorke, Into the Woods
There’s a smaller story inside a larger story, and so on until the smallest detail. People can either learn it by reading Yorke’s fundamental book on storytelling, or they can perceive it by getting to know the life of the British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, his spiritual journey, and that day in Gothenburg that placed him among the greats of all times.
The fractals of Jonathan Edwards’ life
The larger story of Edwards’ life is his spiritual journey. A strong Christian believer, Edwards initially refused to compete on Sundays, a day he thought should be reserved for worshiping God. The decision prevented him from taking part in major triple jump events, such as the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo.
That’s where the smaller story breaks in. In 1995, in Gothenburg, Jonathan Edwards was competing only in his second World Championships, after obtaining a bronze medal in 1993. Things have changed a lot in the past years. Approaching his thirties, Edwards has accepted to compete on Sundays after thinking about it for a long time. In the meantime, he has changed his status inside the triple jump community.
His blossom in the past year has been remarkable. In the two months preceding the World Championship, he has jumped an unprecedented 18.43 m, although wind-assisted. Nonetheless, it was the largest jump ever recorded. Later on, he set the world record at 17.98 m, while sporadically delivering 18-meter-plus, wind-assisted jumps. In a nutshell: he was the best in the world, waiting to deliver on the biggest stage.
20 glorious minutes
And he delivered: on the very first jump in the final, Edwards landed 18.16 m away from the board, with a favorable wind of +1.3 m/s. A new world record, 18 centimeters above the previous one, the first wind-legal jump to surpass the barrier of 18 meters. Edwards reacted in a relieved, joyous way, opening his arms towards the public, smiling. He had basically won the competition at the first jump, he had set a new world record for the ages.
That’s the core of Jonathan Edward’s story: never to settle. His life is a hymn to always move, to always reconsider what’s taken for granted – no matter the level of the fractal you look at. In the larger story, he questioned his own refusal to compete on Sundays, and, later in his life, he even questioned his own faith. In the smaller story, he couldn’t help but question the world record he just set.
All I can remember, I guess, is the feeling of “I’m not done yet” in this competition. […] I still felt, like, there was more to do.Jonathan Edwards
The second jump came somewhat 20 minutes after the first. At that point, Edwards was totally relaxed. He even smiled before the run-up. The jump was elegant, and balanced and it was very long. 18.29 m, a world record – again – and one that will last until the moment of writing.
The teaching of Jonathan Edwards
His body seemed to transcend into another matter. Even the sign he left in the sand looked light as a feather. Edwards started celebrating without even looking at it: he knew it was longer. He shrugged his shoulders and looked almost embarrassed as he gazed at the crowd. It felt like he couldn’t help but beat the world record, and he was the first one to grasp the absurdity of this statement.
He won the event, but the awe he left behind was brighter than his gold medal. He showed the public how to get to the utmost limit and immediately leave it behind, looking for a new horizon.
Even if he didn’t realize it, through his jumping and his life, through the fractals of his story, Jonathan Edwards was teaching the audience that there’s nothing such as a finish line. Each milestone in our way is just the prelude to the next one. And that is true whether you are talking about faith in a God or a triple jump world record.