Athletics: Ridgeon's new hurdle: Hugh Jones talks to an injury-scarred athlete who has turned to the business of promoting his sport

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The Independent Online
A MODEST municipal stand looks over the track to empty grass banking. Trees line the bends, a sprinkling of officials occupy the infield and athletes and their supporters huddle away from the chilly wind. For Jon Ridgeon an afternoon in Crawley at the Reebok Track Challenge is a far cry from the Olympic stadium in Rome seven years ago, with the partisan crowd baying for blood in the World Championship 110 metres hurdles final.

But it is a new beginning. Ridgeon is more directly responsible for pulling in those supporters - and the athletes - than he ever was as silver medallist in that 1987 final. He is the latest in a growing band of former athletes who are finding a career in athletics promotion. Brendan Foster, Alan Pascoe and Dave Bedford are the big, established names but Ridgeon has only been a participant for a couple of months.

Before that was seven years of bad luck and injury. His last full season of competition was 1987. 'It's obvious what should have happened,' Ridgeon explained. 'Look at Colin Jackson's career. We were at similar talent levels (Jackson finished third in that 1987 final). It's obviously gone well for Colin and not very well for me. It's a shame when someone has a talent and can't fulfil it. I got nowhere near my potential.'

Ridgeon switched to 400m hurdles a couple of years ago, thinking it would be easier on his body. 'Within a couple of months I was in the world's top 10, and I thought, 'At least now I can fulfil some of my talent in this new event'. Then I got injured again a few months later. It's been two cruel blows really.'

There was worse to come. The injury was a partial tear of the tendon, and it happened again at the start of last season. Then last December the tendon snapped completely. Ridgeon had a lengthy but still basic rehabilitation in Australia before returning early in April.

Athletes often make comebacks after announcing retirements - which then look more like long-overdue recoveries from temporary setbacks. Ridgeon is still only 27. 'I'm doing all I can (to return to competitive athletics),' he said, 'but if I'm not running well again at the end of the summer, then I will retire. I'm realistic. After five or six years of tendon injuries, the writing is on the wall for me; it's probably time to move on. I would never risk being a full- time athlete again. My body is too delicate. Once you get involved in other things it becomes increasingly difficult to go back to something that hasn't really gone very well.'

But Ridgeon's new career has gone very well indeed. 'I wanted to stay involved with sport, so I contacted everyone I'd ever been associated with. Some people came back to me and I've been working seven days a week ever since.' Reebok are Ridgeon's athletics sponsors, and they offered him some consultancy work in organising their Track Challenge series of which Crawley was the first of three over the summer.

Ridgeon's tasks at Crawley were to liaise with the press, to do some announcing and commentary, and to organise the sprint fields. A sign of his newcomer's enthusiasm was the addition of an unscheduled 100m 'C' race to the programme. His personal contacts are clearly useful.

'What I got from athletics is that I know a reasonable number of people,' Ridgeon said. 'You have a reasonable amount of self-confidence and you know how to deal with people, but you have to have a quick learning curve. Because I'm doing several different ventures at the moment I'm having to learn on the job very quickly. My mind is sharpening up, I think.'

He originally thought of a media career: 'That's going OK. With Sky and Eurosport it's mainly athletics-related, but with BBC radio I present (general) shows sometimes. I don't want to stay just in athletics, I want to be broader than that.' The media role amounts to two days a week.

Another two days are spent at the London Events Agency, where Ridgeon has dealt with the London Youth Games, scheduled for 16-17 July. 'I've been organising the sponsorship for that. That's coming to an end now, but I'm moving on to other events. They do a lot of charity events like the Swimathon with Duncan Goodhew and the Skateathon with Torvill and Dean.

'I didn't really know about this other side of sport. I have got involved and I've enjoyed it. As long as you are willing to work quite hard I think that you can do more than one type of job.'

(Photograph omitted)

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