Ridgeon and Hansen keep their cool

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The Independent Online
Jon Ridgeon, now on his third comeback after a sequence of injuries and operations that would have broken the competitive spirit of most athletes, took the first step towards his ultimate goal of the 400m hurdles final yesterday.

The 28-year-old Belgrave Harrier, who gave up his job as a BSkyB sports commentator last autumn to have one last crack at reviving his career, won his opening heat in a time of 49.31sec, ahead of Marc Dollendorf of Belgium. But Britain's other representatives, Peter Crampton and Gary Jennings, found the going too hard on a morning where the temperature and humidity approached 90F.

The conditions did not adversely affect Ashia Hansen, who qualified for the triple jump final with her first effort of 14.55m, well over the automatic qualifying mark of 14.20. It was a significant advance for the American- born athlete, who failed to qualify at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships of 1994, and also at last year's world championships.

That unhappy record has failed to do justice to a talent that has become obvious in the last two years. Hansen, who began her athletics life as a sprinter and tried middle-distance running before settling on jumps, has a personal best of 14.66 and the ability to translate her potential into a medal here.

But she will find the competition extremely tough. Six women yesterday jumped 14.50 or more - something not seen in any other major championship - with the world's leading competitor this year, Inna Lasovskaya of Russia, setting an Olympic record of 14.75. The world champion and record-holder, Inessa Kravets, also progressed, but Anna Biryukova of Russia, the former world record-holder, found the standard too much.

There was success too for the British in the 1500m, where Laban Rotich of Kenya ran the fastest heat in Olympic history. His time, 3min 35.88sec, has only been bettered by three Olympic champions - Herb Elliott, Kip Keino and Sebastian Coe. Kevin McKay, one of the British trio, had to run with Rotich yesterday. He managed to take the fourth qualifying place with a time of 3:38.02. He will be joined in the next round by John Mayock and Anthony Whiteman, and all the favourites, including Noureddine Morceli, and Hicham El Guerrouj.

Britain's 100m hurdles representative, Angela Thorp, who has been getting better and better this season, also qualified from her first round in a personal best of 12.93sec.

Earlier in the morning, Russia had earned their first gold of the track and field programme through Yelena Nikolayeva in the 10km walk.