Athletics: Christie goes for Atlanta treble

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The Independent Online
Linford Christie will, after all, defend his Olympic 100 metres title this month. Yesterday's long-awaited announcement, reversing the position he adopted in an emotional televised appearance in June of last year, is unlikely to come as a major surprise to any of his Atlanta rivals, several of whom had predicted such a decision.

But, as so often with this man, there was an element of the unexpected in his assertion that he would be doubling up over 200m, as well as doing the relay. "If Michael Johnson can double up, why not me?" he said with a grin. For his last Olympics, it seems, it was all or nothing.

Christie, who has spent most of this season dodging The Question with varying degrees of tolerance, was clearly relieved to have settled upon a decision which, he insisted, was still uncertain going into Sunday's 100m race in Gateshead. So much so that he even began the press conference by jokingly pretending that he was announcing a further week's delay before making his decision.

He cited a variety of reasons for his change of heart, chief of which was the reaction of the public. I have had letters all the time," he said. "I even had one asking me if I was playing in Euro 96. The public have been great. They are the people who have made me what I am," he said.

Another of whom that is true, his long-time coach, Ron Roddan, also figured influentially.

"Every time I want to retire he says 'one more year, one more year,' Christie said. "I have been hanging out because I know that once I go, Ron will go. And that would be a great loss to the sport. I think Ron is going to be the biggest loss because of his vast knowledge."

Christie's shoe company, Puma, had included him in their pre-Olympic publicity material, but he denied that any commercial pressures had influenced his choice of action. "I'm in the sport because I enjoy it," he said. "Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don't run for the money.''

He is confident of his chances going into Atlanta. "I think I'm better than I was four years ago," he said. "I ran 9.96 in Barcelona, but I don't think 9.96 is going to get a medal. I think I'm capable of going a lot quicker.''

Despite that, he did not go along with the suggestion that the Atlanta opposition could be the toughest he has yet faced. "I don't think it will be tougher than Barcelona," he said. "Barcelona was tough, and I think Stuttgart was the toughest ever.''

Did he, someone asked, believe there was a moral obligation for a champion to defend his title if possible? "If you don't feel you are capable of doing it then, well, in this world we have a choice, and it's up to each individual champion to make that choice. If you don't feel you can go out and do justice to yourself and your country, then you have that choice not to go.''

But he denied the suggestion that his delay had been influenced by worries about the kind of injury which brought him literally down to earth at last year's World Championships in Gothenburg, where he finished the final face down with a hamstring injury.

"If I'm going to get injured, I'm going to get injured," he said. "As an athlete you always have pain, you always have problems. But if it's going to go, it's going to go.''

And so is he. Less than a week after England's Wembley disappointment, it was good to see a result going the home way.

Christie's name was among those added to the British team before the deadline of midnight on Sunday. As expected, Steve Backley and Jonathan Edwards also had their places confirmed.

Paul Evans has been granted his wish to switch from the marathon to the 10,000m. Evans withdrew from the marathon because he did not want to spend six weeks away from home training and acclimatising at a time when he was worried about a family illness.

His positive victory over 5,000m at Gateshead on Sunday told in his favour. The selectors also looked kindly on sprint hurdler Jacqui Agyepong, who found it hard going in her first major race after an Achilles tendon injury at Gateshead, but who has been rewarded for her past record. Craig Winrow has been given the third 800m place alongside Curtis Robb and David Strang after beating both of them on Sunday.