Athletics: Christie hampered by a shortage of sharpness: Sprinters at the British championships are unlikely to take advantage of the Olympic titlist's poor condition

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE has been known to make the odd rash statement; this, after all, is the man who won an Olympic gold medal a year after retiring.

His announcement that he was quitting the sport - made in the aftermath of failure to gain an individual 100 metres medal at the 1991 world championships - was swiftly amended. His claim, in the wake of Wednesday night's defeat over 200m in Rome, that he would give up his European Cup place to anyone beating him in this weekend's Pearl British championships at Crystal Palace, is not likely to need similar backtracking.

The six weeks of winter training that Christie has missed because of a back injury sustained while lifting heavy weights have, on his own admission, left him less sharp than he at this time last season. Then, he was a close third to Frankie Fredericks and Michael Johnson in the Rome 200m, recording 20.25sec; this time around he was never comfortable as he finished almost at a trot in 21.16.

But there is no Briton who appears ready to take advantage of his relative weakness in today's 100m event. John Regis, who has run 10.15sec this year, would be the man most likely, but he has the 200m, his specialist distance, to worry about tomorrow. Christie is officially entered for that as well.

Colin Jackson, who set the season's fastest 110m hurdles time of 13.11sec on Wednesday, has also entered the 100m. He fancies doubling up at this summer's world championships and could give Christie a testing time for the first 50 metres.

Regis will have some intriguing company tomorrow, as the 200m event includes two runners disputing the individual 400m place in the European Cup later this month - Roger Black and David Grindley.

Grindley staked his claim with second place in Rome in 45.44sec. Black, who is still feeling his way after recovering from a hip operation, would need a good performance to claim the position ahead of Britain's record holder and Olympic finalist.

Gary Cadogan and Brian Whittle will seek to impress the European Cup selectors over 400m hurdles. But Kriss Akabusi, the Olympic bronze medallist who intended to retire from big-time competition, has signalled that he might be drafted in, and goes in the 400m flat.

When the selectors meet tomorrow night to decide their team for Rome on 26-27 June, they may face some complication in the men's middle distances. Curtis Robb, the 21-year-old Olympic 800m finalist who is planning an eventual move to 1500m, will run the longer distance at Crystal Palace. David Sharpe, last year's 800m World Cup champion, is racing over two laps. But the 800m seems likely to go to a man who has not raced in the outdoor season, the world indoor champion Tom McKean. A viral infection prevented him competing in last weekend's European Relays.

Meanwhile Eamonn Martin, pre-selected for the European Cup and world championship 10,000m, will provide a further test for Steve Cram's credentials over 5,000m. The two met in the same event four years ago, when Cram won in 13min 28.58sec.

Dave Lewis, Paul Evans and Gary Staines are likely to be the leading protagonists in today's 10,000m world championship trial as they seek to join Martin in Stuttgart.

The women's 3,000m also serves as the world championship trial, and offers Paula Radcliffe, the former world junior cross-country champion, the opportunity to match herself against the European and world indoor champion, Yvonne Murray. Radcliffe, who recently ran 4min 12sec for 1500m in Granada, a personal best, will also face strong opposition in Alison Wyeth, an Olympic finalist.

Sally Gunnell, relatively fresh from setting the season's fastest 400m hurdles time of 54.64sec, runs the 400m.