The Long Jump seems to have more than its fair share of iconic figures in the sport. Think of the likes of Jesse Owens, Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis, Mike Powell – coincidently all US athletes – and the latest in that line has been Dwight Phillips.
Phillips’ final international meeting was the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich last Thursday (29) and although the four-time World champion will have mixed memories of his last competition, he was honoured with a special presentation by IAAF President Lamine Diack, himself a former long jumper.
Phillips’ distance of 7.53m in Zurich was a long, long way from his personal best of 8.74m from 2009 which places him equal fifth on the all-time list with only Powell, Beamon, Lewis and Armenia’s Robert Emmiyan ahead of him.
For a man who legally jumped farther than 8.20m in no less than 70 competitions during a senior international career that stretched back 14 years, it was not the way he would have liked to have bowed out, but Phillips will be remembered not as eighth place in his last competition but for his triumphs at the 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2011 World Championships – only Sergey Bubka and Lars Riedel have won more gold medals in the same individual event – as well as victories at the 2004 Olympic Games and 2003 IAAF World Indoor Championships.
“I would have liked to have had a better result but, never mind, I enjoyed my last competition and Zurich is an appropriate place to end my career,” reflected Phillips on Thursday night.
“What will I do after athletics? I live in Atlanta and I have a video production company. We do photography, videography and commercials and I'm really involved in that when I'm not training. We work with recognisable brands in the entertainment and corporate arenas.”
More time for family life also beckons for Phillips, who has two sons aged six and seven.
“I do want to spend a lot more time with my boys. There are just a lot of sacrifices you have to make (to be an elite athlete). I also work with The Leap of Faith Community Outreach which is an organisation with the purpose of helping people live in the community.”
It was good to see Phillips competing at all in 2013 after suffering a serious Achilles problems last year, which saw him have surgery and miss the entire 2012 season.
Many athletes in a similar situation would have hung up their spikes last summer but that wasn’t what Phillips wanted to do.
“After my injury last year it was a blessing for me to make it to the (World Championships) final in Moscow. It was devastating not going to London for the Olympics,” he added.
“I actually wanted 2012 to be my last year in the sport but after tearing my Achilles, I knew that I wanted to go out competing rather than when I was injured.
"Due to the fact I tore my Achilles and I knew I had an automatic place for the World Champs this year, I just decided in my mind that I wanted to go out of the sport on my own terms: competing and not injured.”
Moscow was the seventh consecutive World Championships for Phillips, who made his first appearance in Edmonton 2001 and won a bronze medal in Osaka 2007. Along with 800m runner Khadevis Robinson, that makes him the most prolific US male athlete in this respect.
“What’s kept me going for so long is that I absolutely love track and field. I’ve been doing it since I was eight.”
A hiatus to his early career came when he was hit by a motorcycle, driven by a friend of his brother, while playing in the street in his home town of Decatur at age 14 and broke both of his legs.
Phillips spent many months in casts, eight months in rehabilitation and it was almost two years before he recovered fully. "My legs were very weak. I guess just overcoming adversity, that's how I've been my entire life,” he joked in an interview with USA Today last year.
Once back on his feet, he showed enough talent as a sprinter and triple jumper – he can boast of a 100m best of 10.06 and a Triple Jump best of 16.41m, and finished third in the latter event at the 1996 US Junior Championships as an 18-year-old – to earn a scholarship to the University of Kentucky, where he spent the first two years of his college career before switching to Arizona State University.
The rest, as they say, is history, with Phillips first coming to international attention when he made the final of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where he finished seventh.
Phillips' only regret about his career is that he never got closer to Mike Powell’s World record of 8.95m, although it was something that he knew was beyond him this summer.
“I've accomplished all the major accolades in winning the Olympics and World Championships. The only thing I'm really missing is the World record,” added the ever-smiling Phillips when asked to look back on his career.
“I’ve had the opportunity to watch the greats like Sebastian Coe, Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses. They really inspired me with their longevity to be the best I could possibly be. Hopefully I’ve inspired many people too, who can follow in my footsteps.
“Hopefully, I left a great legacy and will be remembered like other big long jumpers like Carl Lewis,” commented Phillips. And it is highly likely he will.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF