Sun, May 25: UI freshman stops watching, starts working

Sun, May 25: UI freshman stops watching, starts working

   CHAMPAIGN  Tunde Ridley wasn''t so wide-eyed this time.

   When the University of Illinois freshman competed in his first Big Ten Conference track and field championship meet in February, "I wanted to see everything more than like compete."

   Instead of viewing the passing spectacle Saturday, Ridley threw himself headlong into it: Four events. Three personal records. Two times a qualifier for today''s finals in the Big Ten Outdoor Championships at the UI Track Stadium.

   "He really grew up a lot today as a competitor," Illini assistant and field events coach Tom Doyle said. "For the last two or three weeks, he had kind of gotten into a mode ... where he seemed to be comfortable with just being a good freshman and seemed like for a bit had lost the killer instinct to be first."

   Although Ridley didn''t finish first in the one final he was involved in Saturday, the Carlinville native did show the instincts of a back-to-the-wall battler.

   Seemingly stuck in third place in the long jump, Ridley popped off a PR of 25 feet, 8 3/4 inches on his final attempt to vault into second. His previous best was 25-6 1/4.

   "Obviously, I needed that jump," said Ridley, eager to show improvement over a third-place finish at the Big Ten indoor meet months earlier.

   Said Doyle: "For him to come back on his last jump and hit such a nice jump  a personal best in the championship meet  when he had to do it, that''s just incredible."

   On this day, there certainly could be no shame in placing second. Not when the winner''s performance conjured up the name of the legendary Jesse Owens. Iowa''s Bashir Yamini did so by leaping 26-8 1/4, the same distance as the meet record set by Owens in 1935 while at Ohio State.

   Owens'' mark had withstood all attempts through the years to better it. And it would withstand Yamini''s bid to share the record because the Hawkeye''s effort was wind-aided and thus doesn''t qualify for records consideration.

   Still, that didn''t lessen the thrill Yamini felt to be mentioned in the same breath with the Olympic great.

   "It''s a great honor," said Yamini, who earlier this year placed second in the NCAA Indoor Championships. "Jesse Owens, he''s a role model to a lot of black athletes. Back in the 1930s, it was hard to compete and concentrate because of what was going on  discrimination."

   Ridley was indiscriminate in his efforts to help Illinois'' cause. In the midst of the long jump, Ridley left briefly to run on the UI''s 4 x 100 relay team. That unit  which also included Chris Jones, Charles Gibson and Dorian Green  won its heat in 40.18 seconds.

   Ridley advanced to another of today''s finals  in the 100  by finishing second to Green in their heat. Ridley''s time of 10.33 was a PR.

   Ridley barely missed out on advancing in the 200 after running a PR of 21.06. Although that clocking was the eighth-fastest in the preliminaries, he will not be in the eight-man finals field. The top two finishers in each of the three heats automatically advanced, with the next two best times also advancing. Ridley''s time was third in that grouping.

   The 200 was Ridley''s fourth event of a long day. By then, he said, his tank was running low.

   "Halfway down the backstretch in that 200, I was like, ''Man, I''ve got to suck it up,'' " he recalled. "I just gave it my all."