Ridgeon on track for Atlanta team

Norman Fox witnesses the triumphant return of a never-say-die athlete

Jon Ridgeon's sunny disposition, that has defied four years of painful retirement and two previous attempted comebacks to top-class athletics, glowed even more warmly in Cardiff yesterday when he won a quick 400 metres hurdles to confirm that he is ready to take his place in Britain's Olympic team in Atlanta. He was amazed.

Although he had to hold off a stern challenge from last year's fastest Briton over the distance, Peter Crampton, he did so confidently though not comfortably in the presentable time of 49.87 seconds. From a distance, his hurdling looked impressive throughout a race that he started in front, leaving Crampton to do a great deal of hard work merely to get on terms approaching the last bend.

Ridgeon belied his lack of competitive edge by holding off Crampton, who knows there is now competition for Olympic vests. Not long ago Ridgeon would never have predicted such a situation. "There was a time when I was told I would never run again, let alone get an Olympic place."

He felt that this year he needed all the advantages of warm-weather training. "Here, though, it was windy and it felt cold to me, having been in South Africa. The wind messed up my stride pattern - it was very ugly. Then I looked at the time and I couldn't believe it. I was climbing those hurdles."

With Tessa Sanderson and now 29-year-old Ridgeon both in Britain's team for the Europa Cup in Madrid next weekend, there are obviously expanding possibilities for anyone else contemplating coming out of retirement. Lynn Davies, who became the first Welsh Olympic champion back in 1964, says he is not tempted.

Like Sanderson, Ridgeon was a World Cup silver medal winner. He was also second, ahead of Colin Jackson, in the 1987 World Championships. Unlike Sanderson, he has spent the last few years thinking more about a career in entertainment, though in his case not pantomime but television presentation.

He was 25 when achilles-tendon problems seemed to have ended a career that also included a European title. After the first damage in 1992 he went under the knife believing that he would soon recover. It took two more operations on the injury and a fourth to clear up scar tissue. Yet as with Sanderson, his comeback this season has quickly brought him the Olympic qualifying standard.

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