How We Met: Linford Christie and Colin Jackson

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The Independent Culture
Jamaican-born Linford Christie, 34, came to Britain at the age of seven. The reigning Olympic 100 metres champion, he has won more major championship medals than any other British male athlete. In 1989 he was awarded the MBE. He lives in London with his girlfriend, Mandy Miller.

Colin Jackson, 27, was born in Cardiff to Jamaican parents. He holds the World, European and Commonwealth records for the 110 metres hurdles; last weekend he won both the hurdles and the 100 metres at the European Indoor Championships. He too is an MBE. He lives with his parents in Wales.

LINFORD CHRISTIE: To be honest, when I first met Colin I was more interested in his sister (the ex-Brookside actress Suzanne Packer) than I was in him. Nothing ever came of it because soon I was best mates with Colin and she became like my own sister. But I sometimes joke that if it hadn't been for her I wouldn't have given him the time of day.

Anyway, it was 1984 when we first met. I was sharing a room with Nigel Walker - who now plays rugby for Wales - and Colin was a mate of his.

We were all taking part at a championship at Crystal Palace. Colin seemed very fresh-faced, a little kid from the valleys. I was quite a bit older than him - 24 while he was only 17. I was also much bigger than him, physically. I think we both felt that we came from totally different worlds and different backgrounds, but I couldn't help liking him.

What did I like about him? What do I like about him? Well everything really, even his bad points - like the fact that he's such a slob. But his good points outweigh the bad. He's very creative and full of good ideas, and he's also the most enthusiastic person I've ever known. As our friendship developed, he and Nigel Walker would nag me to death about not training hard enough. I thought, 'Why doesn't he get off my back?' But then he had this mad enthusiasm and total belief, not just in me but in himself.

I suppose another plus was that he could always make me laugh. He was very funny - despite the fact that in the early days he was very quiet and shy. I think now that he's much more confident and maybe that's to do with success. When we first met, both of us knew that we had it in us to be the best in the world. But you never know if it will really happen.

Maybe a lot of our friendship stems from having encouraged each other to achieve what we have - and from the fact that each of us knows how hard the other has had to work. We started training together in 1987.

Colin gets stronger and braver with every race that he wins. And yet, maybe because of the way I felt about him when we first met, my instinct is still to be a kind of big brother to him. I'm very, very protective of Colin. If anyone ever picked a fight with him and I was there, I'd wade in immediately and ask questions later. I'd do for him what I'd do for any member of my family. He is family to me.

Maybe the protectiveness also comes from knowing that Colin is a vulnerable person - anyone as nice as him has got to be. On the surface he's very bubbly, always laughing and joking. But he's very deep, too, and easy to hurt.

When he's angry he's not like me at all. I get things off my chest. But Colin always sulks and keeps things inside. Fortunately, we rarely row - otherwise there'd be no way we could train together, or run our company, 'Nuff Respect, which we formed in 1992. The idea was to market ourselves rather than be marketed, in the way that sportsmen are, by other people.

'Nuff Respect is a street expression. When kids see us, they use it to mean, 'Our respect goes out to you.' They're not just talking about what we've achieved on the track, but the fact that we're still very much part of our community. We still mix with the kids on the street. Neither of us is hung up on race or colour, but both of us feel that if we've managed to inspire black kids to think, 'Yeah, I could do that]' it's a good thing.

If I was in trouble I'd go to Colin, probably before anyone else. His advice is usually very deep and sensible and well thought-out. He understands me and I understand him - probably because we've been through a lot of good times and bad times together.

At the Olympics, for example, Colin was there cheering me on when I won gold, and we shared that triumph. Colin was injured at the time and his hurdles race didn't go well. But I shared that sadness. Then, at the World Championships at Stuttgart last year, Colin won and smashed the world 110 metres hurdles record at the same time. I don't know who was happier about it, him or me. There were tears of happiness running down my face.

I know that Colin has cried for me, too - sad tears as well as happy. You could say that we have a history together, which is why we both expect it to last forever.

COLIN JACKSON: I'd heard about Linford Christie before I ever met him - everyone in athletics had. He had this reputation for being talented but kind of distracted. Still, anyone could see he had what it takes to make it all the way. But getting him motivated was another matter. I was introduced to him by Nigel Walker - an old mate of mine who used to room with Linford. My first impression was of this great big powerful guy, who towered above me.

I suppose I was drawn to him as you are when you meet someone you know will have a big effect on your life. I knew I wanted us to be friends.

He had this way about him. He would sit down and hold court. He'd tell all these amazing stories about what it was like for him growing up in Jamaica, and how it had been when he came to England. People would just sit around and listen to him. I suppose it was especially interesting for me because - though my parents are Jamaican, too - I'd never been there. Also, I hadn't known what it was like to be a teenager in London. I'd grown up in Wales and felt very sheltered and protected in comparison to Linford. I thought this gave him the kind of street cred that I'd never have. I thought he was one of the coolest people I'd ever met. But also, because he was seven years older, I looked up to him - he was a bit like a big brother. I had a lot of respect for him. To be honest, I probably wanted to be him.

As our friendship developed, I got more confident with Linford and I started speaking my mind. Nigel Walker and I started nagging him about not training. But it wasn't until Linford felt ready to commit himself totally that things started happening.

Still, maybe it's not a coincidence that both our careers started to take off when we began training together. It was about 1987, and we both had this lethal ambition to be the best.

At international competitions we'd room together, always spurring each other on. On many occasions, we've been each other's shoulder to cry on. We learnt a lot about each other, we cemented our friendship.

For example, Linford learnt that I'm the untidiest person in the world and I learnt that he's Mr Meticulous. My side of the room would look like Armageddon and his would look like the Ideal Home Exhibition. He is the only man I've known who irons his socks, underpants and flannels.

He's meticulous in everything - especially friendship. I've never known him to let me down. If I had a problem I could call him, and I have done many times. Normally, you're aware that there's a queue of people needing him. But I suppose that if I was the last to call he'd put me at the top of the list. I know I take priority in his life - as he does in mine.

Psychologically, I think we're very different. Linford doesn't hold stuff inside the way I do, and sometimes I think that's given him a reputation for being bolshy and arrogant. But most of the things he says make a lot of sense, even if sometimes people don't like the way he says them.

Personally, I've learnt to live with it. I know that if Linford thinks you're getting out of hand, then he soon slaps you down. You always know where you stand with him.

I know that I drive him nuts because I rarely say what's on my mind. If I'm cross, I sulk. But mostly we laugh a lot. If you get us together you see the best of us because we give each other confidence.

Maybe it's because we're each other's safety net. We make each other brave. Linford knows I could drop him in it right now, and I know he could do the same to me. But neither of us would ever even think about that. That kind of thing would kill us.

I don't have any doubt that we'll still be best mates in 20 years' time. I'm looking forward to him getting older because I know that - with the amount he eats - as soon as he gives up training he'll put on about 15 stone.

I can't wait to show his kids pictures of their father when he was the fastest runner in the world. I'll say, 'He was pretty thin then, wasn't he, kids? But look at the fat git now.' -

(Photograph omitted)

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