Exclusive: Ben Johnson in comeback

THE DIARY

THE DIARY can reveal that Ben Johnson will be challenging for the coveted New Year Sprint title in Edinburgh next month. In an exclusive interview, Johnson revealed that he will be making his debut as a professional runner in the traditional handicap race meeting popularly known as "Powderhall" in recognition of the track where it was held until 1970. "I've been training with the `pro' guys since February," he said, "and I've been going pretty well. At my age, 35, you stand a better chance running against younger guys with the handicap system."

And time and the tide appeared to be catching up with Johnson last summer. In two comeback races he ran 13.2sec for 100m. Even at his peak, when he stopped the clock at 11.6, he was never quite as quick as his hero - the Ben Johnson who won the 1988 Olympic final in 9.79.

It was in May 1988, four months before big Ben was first struck off the competition list for failing a drugs test, that Gary Smith, as he was known at the time, decided to adopt the same name as the Canadian sprinter. He had read in the News of the World about a man changing his name by deed poll to Linda Lusardi. For 11 years now, the loyal Tynesider, a member of Wallsend Harriers and a floor manager at a Newcastle hotel, has stuck by his assumed identity. And he has no plans to change it now - even though the more fleet-footed Ben Johnson, already banned for life, has fallen foul of the drug-testing procedure for a third time.

"It's a name I've grown used to," he said the morning after traces of a banned diuretic were found in a urine sample voluntarily given by the former world record holder. "People know me as Ben Johnson now, except my wife, who insists on calling me Gary. I stuck by him and by his name in the hope that one day he would be cleared. Things have just gone from bad to worse but I'll keep his name running. I'll probably take it all the way to the grave."

In the meantime, there are sure to be a few grave looks when the other entrants for the 131st New Year Sprint discover that Ben Johnson will be getting to his mark at Musselburgh race track on 28 December.

Kevin's double trouble

IF IT has been a bad week for Ben Johnson (the Canadian Ben Johnson, that is) it has not exactly been a good one for Kevin Keegan - Kevin Keegan of Laurieston, Falkirk, that is. The 22-year-old appeared in Glasgow Sheriff Court on Monday, pleading not guilty to a breach of the peace in the aftermath of the Hampden leg of the "Battle of Britain". He was bailed to reappear on 20 January.

Star's key for Hutch

IT WAS a case of mistaken identity that set Don Hutchison on the high road to football success. It was with the specific intention of selling Rob McKinnon that Garry Gibson, Hartlepool's chairman at the time, sent every top division club a video of Pool's League Cup meeting with Spurs in October 1990. Instead of McKinnon's performance at left-back, though, it was Hutchison's midfield promise that caught the discerning eye of Kenny Dalglish.

Scotland's Wembley hero thus arrived at Anfield in a pounds 175,000 move in January 1991 - 12 months after being sacked by Hartlepool. Hutchison was dismissed by Cyril Knowles when he failed to turn up for the long trip to Colchester on New Year's Day 1990. After pleading for a second chance, he was eventually given one by the Hartlepool manager and Spurs icon. "I was very lucky to get it," Hutchison reflects. As the Scots might put it: nice one, Cyril.

Cyril's Swan song

THERE ARE those who would dispute whether Cyril, the mascot of Swansea City, is a nice swan. He has, after all, become embroiled in a touchline run-in with a visiting assistant manager at the Vetch Field and been fined pounds 1,000 by the Football Association of Wales for celebrating on the pitch with the Swansea players during an FA Cup tie against Millwall. He has, though, gained a considerable degree of popularity as well as notoriety in his two- year existence.

Last year he was voted Personality of the Year by the readers of the South Wales Evening Post. And the Swansea bookmakers Jack Brown have taken so much money on Cyril being named Welsh Sports Personality of the Year they have reduced the odds against him from 100-1 to 50-1. The model bird will not, however, be challenging for the award.

"BBC Wales have said there's no reason why a feathered mascot couldn't win but they feel that it really should go to a sports personality who is actually a sportsman or a sportswoman," Mike Lewis, Swansea's commercial director, said.

"To be honest," he added, "we're keen to take a few steps back on this because we really don't want to impinge on the credibility of the competition. You can't put a bloody nine- foot swan up against Neil Jenkins, for goodness sake."

The 9ft Cyril, however, could well be alongside the 5ft 10in Neil Jenkins when the big prize is presented in January. BBC Wales have suggested he might be involved in the awards ceremony. In the meantime, Swansea's biggest fan is preparing for a starring role on stage. He's appearing in Aladdin at the Grand Theatre in Swansea.

Animal farm out

ON THE subject of wildlife, it has reached the Diary's attention that David Murray is attempting to buy Edinburgh Zoo. The Rangers chairman is one of eight developers who have made bids for the 82-acre site. There appears to be no truth, however, in the rumour that he is interested in the Jungle end of Celtic Park too.

It's not the winning...

AND FINALLY... the Tartan Army's midweek trek south jogged memories of an old jaunt to Portugal. A battalion of the faithful footsoldiers went off to the training ground to see their heroes and, while they were waiting for the players to appear, became engaged in a kickabout with some young natives who also happened to be loitering in the vicinity. When the Scottish team eventually arrived, half an hour later, the Tartan Army were losing 22-1. They had, it transpired, been playing the Portuguese Under-21 side.

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