Athletics: Christie basks in the golden limelight: Richard Edmondson sees a sprinter relishing his new role as a public figure

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE attended yet another awards ceremony in London yesterday and again found himself forming a partnership with Sally Gunnell. Britain's Olympic team captains and track gold medallists have grown accustomed to accepting prizes and to each other's company since their triumphs in Barcelona and yesterday added pounds 2,000 training awards to their collections.

Gunnell, the 400 metres hurdles winner in the summer, departed swiftly from proceedings, leaving Christie to discuss his winter training in Australia and the prospects of beating America rivals such as Carl Lewis and Dennis Mitchell on the circuit next season.

However, it was the name of another sprinter that was in most common circulation. That of Jason Livingston, Christie's one-time training partner, who is facing a four-year suspension from the sport for taking drugs. Livingston, who was sent home from the Olympics when a pre-Games test showed he was positive for Methandianone, an anabolic steroid, will learn today whether his plea to the British Athletic Federation that he was innocent of any drugs offence has been successful.

While Christie did not feel himself empowered to comment on Livingston's individual case, he did have thoughts for those who consider drugs to be a corrosive influence throughout athletics.

'Every time there's a problem it's always down to track and field,' he said. 'It's only because of athletics' high profile that we are always singled out, but there are a lot of sports a lot worse than ours and it's about time people realised this. Why should we always be criticised for actually trying to clean up our sport?'

Christie's wrath extended to the Sports Council, whom he condemned over their announcement of Livingston's positive drugs test, at a time when the Olympic team was already in Barcelona. 'The news shouldn't have come out there,' he said. 'Why did it take the Sports Council so long to do what they did?'

While Livingston's career may effectively be over at 21, Christie is still rolling along at 32 and considers a further two seasons of competition are within range.

Of the British sportsmen who have become public property, Christie is the man who got there the fastest. When recording that 9.96sec to win gold in Barcelona, Christie jumped from successful athelete to the league of men whose every movement is monitored. He joined Mansell, Botham and Gascoigne.

Proof of this celebrity came when Christie stories began to appear outside the sports pages. One national tabloid was even moved to run a feature on the tightness of the sprinter's Lycra shorts under the headline 'Linford's Lunchbox'.

This week, Christie's name could be found in the novelty bets for 1993, wagers that feed greatly on popular culture. Alongside speculation on whether Eldorado will still be on our screens at the end of the year, or whether the Gold Blend coffee couple are to marry, he was quoted at 5-2 to win the world championship 100m in Stuttgart next August.

Like the stealthy pacing of his races, the sprinter believes the steady building of his body has contributed to his sporting longevity. 'I believe it takes a long time to do it naturally but once you do it, it's safe,' he said.

'I made sacrifices when I was young but, at the same time, I haven't abused my body. If you're 20 and you're training twice a day, seven days a week, how much more can you train when you get to 25? I run when I want to, not when other people tell me.'

Though Christie was not as fast in 1992 as he was the previous year, he is disturbed by any suggestion that his best races have gone. 'Age is all in the mind,' he said. And then he had plenty joining him in the questioning of perceived wisdom. 'They say a male reaches his sexual peak at 19,' Christie said. 'How many of you guys believe that?'

(Photograph omitted)

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