DARREN Ritchie has long been known as a fighter. Having failed to win a place at the last two Olympic Games by tiny margins - the width of a postage stamp saw him miss out on Atlanta in 1996 - the Borderer has missed the plane to Athens, but he is not about to give up his athletics career.
The 29-year-old resumes his battle with the UK’s No1 long-jumper Chris Tomlinson at Birmingham tomorrow determined to beat the man who has been given the GB’s ticket to the Olympic Games and prove he is not yet finished. He is keen to improve on his new Scottish record of 8.02 metres, set only last weekend, in the last few meetings of the season but is also toying with a move to the event that made Jonathan Edwards a household name, the triple jump.
"At the moment I’m concentrating just on finishing the season in the best form I can and still trying to prove I can jump further," said Ritchie. "I’m in good shape and looking forward to Birmingham and while it might not get me to Athens it will keep the enthusiasm I’ve got going.
"I will sit down with my coaches, family and friends at the end of the year and then we’ll see what the future holds, but I am considering a move to the triple jump. I’ve entered it at the Scottish Championships and although it’s something I last did about ten years ago, I use it sometimes in training and if I think I could be competitive in the event it might be worth a switch."
Ritchie has attracted sympathetic glances from many who have watched his dedicated rise through athletics, not least from people who view the standards set in the long-jump for Olympics qualification as ridiculously high. It is a fact that 18 athletes from around the world have gone further than the qualifying mark of 8.19m this year, ensuring the Olympic Games will have a good line-up, but only three have actually managed to do it more than once. That suggests there is every possibility that the Games could face the embarrassment of handing over one or more medals to jumpers who have failed to reach its qualifying distance in the Athens final. The qualification mark for the world indoor championship is just 8.10m.
Tomlinson - who has the British record at 8.27m - has fallen well short this year, but scraped in at the 8.05m ‘B’ qualifying standard, with Ritchie just three centimetres behind. In fact, the Commonwealth Games champion Nathan Morgan may feel the most hard done by as he reached 8.19m last season, but has paid the price for failing to follow it up this term.
Ritchie said: "It is very possible only one or two, or none, will pass 8.19 in Athens because it won’t be easy to pull out your best jump of the year in as highly-pressurised an occasion as an Olympic final. Unfortunately, I’ve never had the chance to try, and I can’t blame anyone but myself.
"If I jump further than a medallist in the next few weeks it will be very hard to take, but I’ve just got to deal with that. At the end of the day I might be confident I can go past 8.19 in the Athens conditions, but I haven’t proved that to the selectors yet so I can’t argue. I’m really disappointed not to make it, but I’ve jumped really well, twice gone past eight metres which has been a long-time goal for me, and I really gave it everything, so there was not much more I could do.
"I’ve got an opportunity this weekend to jump again, and I know it might be awkward with people buzzing around and looking forward to the Olympics, but the reality is I didn’t make it.
"The important thing for me is that at this moment in time I’m enjoying my jumping as much as I’ve ever done, and though I was pretty down after not showing my true potential in the AAAs, if I can keep jumping long distances I will keep going.
"Someone said to me the other day that the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne is now only 16 months away, and I hadn’t thought about that because the Olympics had been the sole focus for a long time. But I do feel I have some unfinished business in the Commonwealths, having finished fourth and missed a bronze medal at Manchester by a centimetre, so that’s a possible new goal.
"I’ll get this weekend and this season over first and then we’ll see what the future holds. But I’m certainly not finished yet."