Phillips Idowu has long been a lightning rod for controversy and criticism but his latest row with UK Athletics chief Charles Van Commenee, just days before the London 2012 Olympics was set to open, has arisen at the worst possible time.
It is not the first time Idowu has come into conflict with UK Athletics; he was unfit for last year’s European Championships in Stockholm and came under fire from Van Commenee for announcing his absence over Twitter, a claim Idowu rejected as a 'blatant lie.' The current fall out, again prompted by an injury the triple jumper claims to have forced him to sit out the Olympic Trials and Great Britain’s recent training camp in Portugal, is far more concerning than last year’s spat ever was.
The facts of the row are well known but the potential implications of it are not. Though it would come as a huge shock if Idowu were not to compete in London on the 7Th and 9th, Van Commenee has admitted he cannot be certain he will do so until the 33-year-old discloses the extent of the foot injury he sustained in Oregon at the start of June. The British Olympic Association has been compelled into releasing a statement asserting that their relationship with Idowu, one of Britain’s top medal hopes, is still firmly intact. However, the BOA’s relationship with the athlete makes no difference to the fact that Idowu’s row with Van Commenee is preventing him from accessing both the facilities and medical team that are available to the rest of Great Britain’s athletics squad. Nor does it make a difference to Idowu’s shocking lack of form in 2012, far more worrying than his war of words with UKA.
Idowu’s season best 17.31m jump is a full 50 centimetres below his career best figure of 17.81, set at the European Championships in Barcelona way back in 2010. Equally concerning is the fact that he hasn’t won a major championship since setting that mark. Prior to 2008, when he took home the gold medal at the World Indoor Championships, Idowu’s record in major championships had been sketchy to say the least. In Athens, at the 2004 Olympic Games, Idowu fouled on each of his three jumps in the final; in 2002 he leaped 17.68m to take silver in Manchester, but then went six years before beating that mark in a major tournament. Inconsistency has always been Idowu’s fatal flaw since succeeding Jonathan Edwards as Britain’s premier triple jumper, but in recent years performances have been strong.
Idowu does not go into the Olympics as favourite to win - that honour rests with the USA’s Christian Taylor. If he is to overturn the odds, he will need the very best coaching and physiotherapy available to him. Although I have no doubts Idowu's team will be doing their very best to help improve his form and fitness, his medal prospects are hampered by the failure to join the rest of Team GB in Portugal. The impact on Idowu’s mental preparations for what will be the biggest competition of his life will remain a mystery. At best the confrontation will spur Idowu on to prove his critics wrong by producing a gold medal winning performance. At worst he falls well short of a podium place on the biggest stage in World Athletics. Idowu’s legacy will be defined by these games; for his sake he must come up good.