Athletics: Christie and Lewis race set for Gateshead: Olympic champion and world champion over 100 metres will pick up pounds 100,000 apiece from television for around 10 seconds of sprinting

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The Independent Online
THE confrontation that has been on and off more times than Oxford Street's Christmas lights this year was finally confirmed yesterday. Linford Christie, the Olympic champion, will meet Carl Lewis, the world champion, over 100 metres on 30 July at Gateshead.

It will never tell us whether Lewis would have beaten Christie in Barcelona had the American not failed to progress through the US trials. It will earn each man around pounds 100,000, which works out at about pounds 10,000 per second of effort.

That is not as much as they seemed likely to get earlier this year, when Andy Norman, Christie's manager, estimated it was 60-40 that a packaged-for-TV competition in Las Vegas, scheduled for 29 May, would go ahead, yielding Christie a dollars 250,000 ( pounds 165,000) share of a total prize fund of dollars 1m. Lewis, who was to have long-jumped against the world record-holder, Mike Powell, as well, was due to collect dollars 500,000.

That scheme foundered on financial difficulties with Home Box Office, the American cable television company. But ITV, which planned to buy the package from HBO for British viewers, has persevered. In return for its sizeable investment in this one-off head-to-head, Stuart McConachie, executive producer for athletics within ITV, is expecting the biggest ratings since the meeting of Mary Decker and Zola Budd eight years ago.

'We get figures of around seven million for our grand prix meetings,' McConachie said. 'For Gateshead, we expect the figure to be near 10 million. We have tracked the situation all year. We felt that if it was going to happen for Linford it should be in this country.'

Subsequent plans for the two men to meet at last weekend's AAA Championships in Birmingham last weekend and this Friday's grand prix meeting at Crystal Palace also fell through. But now both have agreed to take part in the Vauxhall Invitation meeting, where Lewis competed last year in the long jump.

Despite the recent, boxing-promotion style jibes from Lewis to the effect that Christie was avoiding him, it seems the significant movement which has made the race viable has come from the United States. 'There is no more money on offer now than there was two months ago,' Norman said yesterday. 'Linford has always been ready to meet Carl. I got a call from Joe Douglas (Lewis's manager) on Thursday saying that Carl would now come over five days early before the Zurich meeting on 4 August.'

It was the last effective opportunity for such a race in Britain before the World Championships, which start on 14 August. A meeting between Lewis and Christie there will be for glory only - as Norman expressed it, 'nought plus nought equals nought'. It seems that Lewis is now settling for what he can get.

It will be the first time the Olympic champion and the world champion have raced in Britain. Their last confrontation was in the 1991 Tokyo World Championships, where Lewis won with a world record of 9.87, and Christie was fourth in a European best of 9.92. The American holds a 12-1 advantage over his rival in all their races.

Meanwhile, Britain's other Olympic champion, Sally Gunnell, who races a strong field over 400m hurdles in tonight's Nice grand prix, has reacted with rare anger at reports of disparity between the pay for men and women athletes.

A recent report by the British Athletic Federation's women's working party says Gunnell receives dollars 15,000 per meeting in Britain, while Christie gets dollars 45,000. 'If this is true, then I'm angry on behalf of all other top British women athletes,' Gunnell said. 'As I understand it the margin between men and women tennis players at Wimbledon has been narrowed down to about 10 per cent.'

Elsewhere in the Nice programme, Colin Jackson races over 110m hurdles against his friend and rival, Mark McKoy, the Olympic champion, while Yobes Ondieki, the new world 10,000m record-holder, drops down to the 3,000m.