Linford and Carl: the panther and the gazelle

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Carl Lewis and Linford Christie are by a distance the pre-eminent 100 metres runners of modern times. Born within a year of each other, they could hardly be more different. Lewis, who seemed to glide the distance, was from the start an athlete of god-like gifts. World champion at 22, he was also a long jumper almost without parallel. Only Jesse Owens in 1936 had won four Olympic golds as Lewis did in 1984. Lewis looked unbeatable and his flash showboating demeanour only added to it. As Christie was to find out, it was hard to persuade him he could be beaten fair and square. Christie's achievement, phenomenal by any standards, came late and looked what it was: the product of ferocious hard work, strength, concentration and a puritanical view of how sportsmen should conduct themselves in competition.

As Christie writes in his book, he did not dedicate himself to training to the ultimate until quite late. As a result, he was in his late twenties when he became a world-beating athlete, and his greatest achievements came in his thirties. It is remarkable to think that in 1984, when they were in their early twenties, Lewis was nearly half a second faster over 100 metres.

The graphic above shows the contrast in their courses: Lewis's greatest days were nearly over before Linford began. Lewis was a specialist at antagonising opponents as well as demoralising them. Christie, of all contemporary gladiators, is not a man to be faced down. Lewis did not run in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 and it rankled with Christie that people said that without Lewis it wasn't total victory. In a much-heralded money match at Gateshead in July 1993, Christie won, but Lewis complained of jet lag. A month later at the World Championships, Christie won gold and Lewis came in fourth. So each beat the other when it mattered, but the truth is that as they peaked at such different stages of their careers Lewis and Christie never properly met.