Du'aine takes the lad out of Ladejo

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The Independent Online

Du'aine Ladejo is looking to make a name for himself a second time around. The question is: which one? Which name, that is? "Whichever suits you," he says. "Officially Thorne-Ladejo is my name, but people know me as Ladejo. To be honest, I sometimes use one and sometimes the other."

And, to think, everyone thought they had Du'aine Ladejo sussed: the Du'aine Ladejo who told the world he was going to beat Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympics – and then failed to get past the quarter-final stage of the 400m in Atlanta. He was the big-mouthed Brit who could talk the talk but couldn't sprint the sprint.

There was more sniggering at his expense when he took on the challenge of the decathlon and didn't quite make the world-class grade, finishing seventh at the Commonwealth Games in 1998 – and when he turned up as a 400m hurdler at the Olympic trials last year and fell at the penultimate barrier in his heat. The ego had landed again. Or so it seemed.

Du'aine Ladejo – or Du'aine Thorne-Ladejo, as he is formally listed in UK Athletics material – is back on the international scene. Last Sunday he finished fourth in the 400m hurdles in the GB v United States v Russia match in Glasgow. It was his first international appearance in an individual event outdoors since the Atlanta Olympics. Next weekend he will be looking to secure selection for the World Championships in Edmonton when he lines up as Chris Rawlinson's chief rival in the Norwich Union AAA championships, which run from Friday to Sunday at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham.

He is looking to set the record straight too. "I'm going to test you here," he says when asked about his notorious "boast". "When did I actually say 'I'm going to beat Michael Johnson'? I think what you'll find is I'd won the European indoor championships in Stockholm and broken Michael Johnson's track record, and what I actually said was, 'It brings me one step closer to the man and I have no idea what will happen in Atlanta but every race I compete in, whether it's against Michael Johnson or a complete nobody, I run to win. So if I'm going to the Olympic Games I'm going to run for gold'.

"Headline next day: 'Ladejo says he'll beat Michael Johnson'. That was pretty unfair. And what made it even worse was the way Roger Black played on it. That surprised and disappointed me."

Five years on from Atlanta, where Black took the silver medal in Johnson's golden wake, it needles Ladejo that he was pilloried for nothing more than daring to adopt a positive attitude in public – for refusing to set his sights below first place, even against Johnson, the supposed Superman of track and field. At the age of 30, he is still driven by the same unwavering will to win, as he strives to work his way up the 400m hurdles ladder. "My objective is to be the very best, regardless of whether you make it or not," he says. "That's what you aim for.

"Right now I'm still trying to get used to the 400m hurdles. I haven't run one race in which at least I got the basics right – not even running well, just getting my stride pattern right, hurdling with good technique and having a good rhythm. Everything's a bit of a mismatch.

"I want to step out there and show people the finished product but I have to take it one step at a time. This year my aim is to make sure I know the basics of the event and can execute them – and to get a reasonable time. If I come out with a time in the low 48 seconds I'll be reasonably happy."

So far this summer, 15 months into his career as a 400m hurdler, the best time the London-born, Texas-educated Birchfield Harrier has come out with so far is in the low 49 seconds, 49.29sec. It ranks him second in Britain – behind Rawlinson, who has clocked 48.91sec – and 25th in the world. With his basic speed, though, there is little doubt that Ladejo has the potential to emerge as a world-class act a second time around – even if his best 400m flat time, 44.66sec, dates back to the AAA championships of 1996, the year he added a second European indoor crown to the outdoor title he collected in Helsinki in 1994.

In the old days Ladejo combined his athletics with his television presenting; he had his own show, Du'aine's World, on ITV. These days he is a full-time athlete, guided by not one but three coaches: Tony Hadley, who works on his sprinting; Max Jones, the performance director of UK Athletics, who oversees his strength and conditioning training; and Judy Vernon, the former 400m hurdles world record holder, who is helping to smooth the rough edges from his hurdling technique.

"It's different to how it was first time around," Ladejo says. "Back then it all came too easy to me. I enjoyed myself to the maximum and did it with the minimum effort. This time I'm more serious, more committed." That much was evident at the European Cup in Bremen two weeks ago when he interupted the post-race team interview to take the blame for Britain's failure to win the 4 x 400m relay. But, then, the true Du'aine Ladejo never really lived up to the harsh public image.

Trying times – Four with most to prove at the world trials

Ian Mackie

Overlooked for relay selection at the Olympics and again from the relay squad at the recent European Cup in Bremen, the Scottish 100m runner will be a man on something of a high-speed mission after finishing an eye-catching third to the American Jon Drummond and Dwain Chambers in 10.19sec in Glasgow last Sunday.

Mark Richardson

Back to winning form in Glasgow a week ago after the lifting of his suspension for a failed drugs test, the 400m man will be looking to secure selection for the World Championships in Edmonton. Last year he won at the Olympic trials but was forced to withdraw from the team for the Games because of his pending case.

Allison Curbishley

Forced to abandon her plans for a 400m hurdling career because of a knee problem, the Commonwealth Games 400m silver medallist has moved up to the 800m instead. Guided now by the former 800m and 1,500m great Steve Cram, she needs to win at the trials and duck under 2min 2sec to stand any chance of selection for Edmonton.

Nick Buckfield

The Crawley pole vaulter has plenty of personal pride to restore, as much as a point to prove, after drawing an embarrassing points-scoring blank at the European Cup last month. Having registered three failures at 5.40m in Bremen, he is certain to start at a less risky height in Birmingham.

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