28 May 2012

Naked ambition

WHEN Hackney boy Phillips Idowu won silver at the Beijing Olympics, he may have been disappointed, but everyone watching was sure we’d be seeing a lot more of this talented triple jumper.

But no one could have realised just how much more, until giant billboards of him naked and in full flight, started appearing across the capital.

“A few of my friends nearly crashed their cars when they saw it, but it was a lot of fun doing it,” the 29-year-old said of those adverts for a well known sports drink.

Chatting away in the back of a cab as he goes to visit a friend in Hackney, Phillips seems a lot happier and more relaxed than the frustrated athlete viewers saw when he missed out on gold in 2008.

“Getting silver felt like a great low for me at the time. I’d been winning all year up until that point and I didn’t picture myself not winning,” he says.

“It was tough to deal with the fact I had a silver in my hands, but I’m fine about it now. Since I’ve been back in the UK people have been really supportive and that has inspired me to keep doing what I do well. In fact, it was probably for the best. If I’d won gold or bronze I don’t think I’d have carried on competing.”

And that would have meant the image conscious athlete, instantly recognisable for his red hair and facial piercings, would have missed out on the chance to compete on home ground in 2012.

“It’s going to be crazy,” he says. “I hope being a local boy I’ll get a lot of support. I want a gold – I want to upgrade the medal I have now. And then that will be it, my last Olympics.

“Having the Games in Hackney is such a positive thing. We’ve been due something like that for a long time. It’s going to bring a big spotlight on the whole area. For a long time there’s been a lot of bad press about the area; now it’s our time to show something positive.”

Before Phillips went out to Beijing, he said he’d finally got his ‘Hackney vibe’ back. He says: “I’ve had a lot of difficult years in my career and a lot of injuries. I was getting a hard time from some commentators. I felt like I was sacrificing so much and not achieving what I wanted to achieve.

"I started spending a lot more time with my friends and family in Hackney. The Hackney vibe is an attitude; a belief. It’s a kind of arrogance, in a positive way. If I can believe I’m the best jumper in the world, then I can do it.

“You’ve got to have your swagger. It was spending more time with people I grew up with in Hackney that helped me get that back.”

And although Phillips and his puppy Angel, a Japanese Akita, will soon be moving to Birmingham to be closer to his coach Aston Moore, he will always be a true Hackney boy at heart.

“Hackney is home. My mum and brother live in Dalston and my sister lives near Homerton. Every time I’m here I just feel comfortable. The people, the shops, the food – I’ve got a lot of memories here.”

Hopefully he will have a lot more great memories in 2012.

*This article first appeared in Hackney Today on 17 November 2008

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu is looking forward to London 2012

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu is looking forward to London 2012

Triple jumper Phillips Idowu is looking forward to London 2012

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