Racing: Injuries force Williamson to end riding career at 34

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The Independent Online

A persistent neck injury has finally forced an end to the riding career of Norman Williamson, one of the most stylish jumps jockeys of the last decade. The Cork-born rider, battered by countless falls, yesterday decided to hang up his saddle at the age of 34.

Known affectionately as Stormin' Norman, he was a formidable rival - in a driving finish with the whips cracking, or when finesse and guile were needed to coax home a reluctant novice.

Two bad falls in recent weeks obliged Williamson to seek medical advice. "I went for a scan in London last week and the reports back were not very good," he said. "The discs in my neck were not settling down and I could have been in serious trouble. I'm taking the sensible route and biting the bullet."

It was not a decision taken lightly. In the spring of 2001, Williamson took a five-week break from riding because of "a bulging disc" at the top of his spine. But he was determined to make a comeback.

A three-times champion pony rider as a youth in Ireland, Williamson was already established as a jumps rider in Britain when he landed the Gold Cup-Champion Hurdle double at Cheltenham in 1995, aboard Master Oats and Alderbrook.

Williamson rode a total of 1,268 winners. His best Grand National placing was finishing second on Mely Moss in 2000, and it was also in defeat - on the brilliant chaser Direct Route in the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2000 - that he will be best remembered by some.

The pair led going into the final 100 yards but were just run out of it by Tony McCoy and Edredon Bleu, going down by the shortest of short-heads in a pulsating finish.

Williamson has bought a farm in County Meath but also has ambitions in television. His verbal skills are almost the equal of another leading jumps rider, John Francome, who retired at the age of 33.

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