Is Phillips Idowu messing with our heads?

Who knows if the Team GB triple-jumper really is injured or is just winding people up. At least he's a bit eccentric.

James Howell

Topics Politics

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In the build-up to the Olympics, Team GB triple-jumper Phillips Idowu has been looked upon as a serious gold-medal hopeful, having won silver in Beijing in the 2008 Games and becoming world champion in 2009. Over the past few months, he has been one of the poster boys and girls of London 2012, along with the likes of Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Rebecca Adlington and Chris Hoy. On his day, he is one of the world’s best triple-jumpers and has been a top performer all year in the event.

Idowu has recently suffered a spate of strange and suspicious injury problems. For example, he pulled out of the Crystal Palace grand prix event earlier this month citing injury. But is Idowu, also known as the Invisible Man, really extremely unfortunate in the injury stakes, or is he playing an elaborate mind game not only on his triple-jump rivals but also on the British Olympic Association (BOA) and the public?

While reports at the time of writing are as conflicting as they’ll ever be – with some sources claiming that he has a trapped nerve behind his left knee – statements from the Idowu camp proclaim that he will be fit to compete. When publicly requested by the BOA to produce medical reports, as required in his contract with Team GB, Idowu is reported to have been disappointed, incensed and frustrated all at the same time.

This has led to a plethora of different commentaries on the athlete in the final few days before the Olympics are set to begin. He has been described as having the ‘belligerent behaviour of an overgrown schoolboy’, while fellow triple-jumper and former Olympic champion Jonathan Edwards has came out and said the mystery surrounding Idowu and his left knee is typical of Idowu’s character. But the reality is probably that this East End boy is purposefully playing mind games at the expense of even the BOA, and especially Charles Van Commenee, the head of UK Athletics.

While the relationship between Van Commenee and Idowu was strained before, it now has got to a stage where the two do not even communicate. The tensions are rumoured to have started over Idowu’s Twitter comments after he pulled out of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010. But Van Commenee has little choice but to put up with Idowu’s shenanigans – he is by far the best triple-jumper available for Team GB. The relationship was put under further pressure after Idowu refused to travel with the rest of Team GB to a training camp in Portugal.

The BOA’s insistence that Idowu should produce medical proof that he is unable to compete and therefore has a legitimate reason for not travelling to Portugal with the rest of Team GB will not do anything for unity in the home camp.

However, the worst thing about the saga is the mentality behind it. Idowu must play by Team GB’s rules or not play at all. With a sport like athletics, that’s a bad demand. For the most part, if there is one thing that Team GB athletics lacks, and has always lacked, it is genuine personality. Where are the equivalents of Freddie Flintoff, Mario Balotelli or John McEnroe? UK athletics appears to be filled with well-spoken, respectable, slightly dull sportspeople. The result is a certain blandness to the events.

The British public loves a maverick. We can still take to a sportsman or sportswoman just because of their attitude, even if they are by no means worldbeaters. Take, for example, one of the worst British Olympic competitors of all time. At risk of sounding a bit rude about a certain ski jumper, he was overweight, wore bottle-bottom glasses and sported a moustache that would only have been acceptable in the 1980s. Michael Edwards, or ‘Eddie the Eagle’ to the rest of us, was one of the worst athletes known to Team GB. What did Britain do? Loved him, because he offered us some character and heart.

Whether Phillips Idowu is actually playing an elaborate set of mind games, on Van Commenee and rival jumper Christian Taylor, we won’t know until the day. But the BOA should not be publicly questioning Idowu’s integrity; just leave him to it. He is certainly a maverick; when compared to the squeaky-clean and uber-professional Ennis, Adlington and Hoy, Idowu’s dyed hair and piercings and attitude add up to a bit of much-needed eccentricity in the UK camp. We’d rather see someone we love win, rather than just watch the ‘best efforts’ of the happy, smiley, bland Team GB. Let’s just hope Idowu is actually ready.

James Howell is a third-year student at Goldsmiths, University of London and a former spiked intern.

Duleep Allirajah is away.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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