Athletics: Captain Christie hoping for a last hurrah

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The Independent Online
Linford Christie, whose first task as Britain's team captain eight years ago was to lift the European Cup, has a realistic hope of doing the same again here this weekend in what he insists - absolutely, definitely - is his last appearance in a British vest.

Leading track statisticians Peter Matthews and Stan Greenberg have both forecast a two-point victory for Britain's men, who have been runners- up in the last five competitions. Statistics apart, however, it will be a difficult task to prevent Germany from securing a fourth consecutive win on home ground.

"It's easy talking about these things on paper," Britain's chief coach, Malcolm Arnold, said. "But every athlete will tell you that competing for their nation in this cup is one of the most nerve-racking events they have ever taken part in."

While the women's task is of a different nature to the men's - they will have to work hard to evade the bottom two places and relegation from the European Super League - the event offers British athletics a chance of raising its profile as a broadly successful enterprise after the bad publicity of recent months and the generally poor showing at last summer's Olympics.

"We collected the rubbish from all the other teams' failure in Atlanta," Arnold said. "That's why we are anxious to put across how good our athletes really are. You have to realise that we are coming into a transitional stage. Linford isn't going to be here forever. Nor are Sally [Gunnell] and Colin [Jackson]. But I'm excited about the youngsters coming through."

If this was a football team, you would say it had an ideal mix of youth and experience. The three world champions of 1993, along with the 1995 world champion Jonathan Edwards and Olympic silver medallists Roger Black and Steve Backley, are augmented by Mark Sesay in the 800 metres, Chris Rawlinson in the 400m hurdles, Robert Hough in the 3,000m steeplechase, Hayley Parry in the 800m and Lucy Elliott in the 5,000m.

With very few exceptions this is Britain's best selection, gathered without the inducements offered to home athletes, who will earn automatic selection for the World Championships if they finish in the first two, as well as drawing upon a national reward fund worth DM100,000.

Christie will run the sprint double here as he seeks to extend his unmatched record in the competition - he has earned 16 victories, including all seven 100m titles since 1987.

The 37-year-old former Olympic champion emphasised yesterday that this is his last major international race. "I think a lot of people have been getting mixed up," he said.

"I will be on the circuit in Europe after this, but this is my last competition where I will be wearing a GB vest. All good things must come to an end."

Christie, however, reacted angrily to the suggestion that he had been easily beaten by Donovan Bailey in their recent 100m in Nuremburg, where he ran 10.05sec to the Olympic champion's 9.94.

"I can beat anybody," he said. "If I went into a race believing that I couldn't win I wouldn't take part. There is nobody out there better than me. I'm the best, simple as that. I'll always be that."

Call it arrogance, call it self-belief, it was a glimpse of the Teflon coating which has made him the athlete he is. He has it in mind to break 10 seconds again - "in the right race, in the right conditions." Black, who will take over as British team captain after this weekend's event, is seeking a reassuring 400m performance after running a comparatively disappointing 45.74 in Long Beach at the end of last month.

The British women's team is lacking Phylis Smith and Judy Oakes, who pulled out respectively from the 400m and shot putt in protest at the paucity of their recent awards through the National Lottery.

Messrs Matthews and Greenberg forecast that this could result in them slipping from a possible third to sixth place, one place above the drop. "I think Phylis and Judy have been petty and small-minded," Arnold said. "Their judgements were hasty and wrong." The proceedings in the 1972 Olympic stadium should be more widely appreciated than in recent years. The organisers said yesterday they had sold 10 times as many tickets as for last year's event in Madrid.

EUROPEAN CUP TIMETABLE: Saturday: 1315: Men's hammer; 1400: Opening ceremony; 1415: Women's pole vault; 1420: Men's high jump; 1430: Women's triple jump; 1440: Women's javelin; 1445: Women's 100m; 1455: Men's 400m hurdles; 1505: Women's 800m; 1515: Men's 1500m and shot; 1530: Women's 400m hurdles; 1540: Men's 100m; 1545: Men's long jump and women's 400m; 1550: Women's discus; 1555: Women's 5,000m; 1615: Men's 400m; 1625: Women's 4x100m; 1635: Men's 4x100m; 1640: Men's 3,000m.

Sunday: 1230: Women's hammer; 1300: Men's pole vault; 1315: Men's triple jump; 1330: Men's javelin and women's high jump; 1340: Women's 100m hurdles; 1350: Women's 200m; 1400: Men's 800m; 1410: Women's 1,500m and shot; 1420: Men's 3,000m steeplechase; 1430: Women's long jump; 1435: Men's 110m hurdles; 1445: Men's 200m and discus; 1455: Women's 3,000m; 1510: Women's 4x400m; 1520: Men's 5,000m; 1545: Men's 4x400m; 1555: Victory ceremony.