Athletics: Christie quick to express concern: After his stunning victory in Zurich on Wednesday night, Linford Christie talked to Mike Rowbottom

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The Independent Online
THREE hours after his rainswept triumph in the Zurich Grand Prix, Linford Christie was still euphoric. The relief he felt at beating a 100 metres field which contained the world's fastest men was palpable, engendering a torrent of words to match the downpour in which the race had taken place.

As he stood in the lobby of the meeting hotel, the Nova Park, people gravitated towards this man who now hangs at the zenith of his career. Some wanted autographs. Some wanted to talk business. Some simply wanted to hear him in full spate - and he did not disappoint them.

The jibe of the United States sprinters at last month's Goodwill Games, which Christie missed because of a hamstring injury, had been answered in the way the Briton had promised. 'They said 'Linford who?' They know now,' he said. 'I haven't felt as good as that after a race for a long time. It might have been raining but it was sunshine for me.'

His mood became temporarily overcast at the mention of Carl Lewis, who had made a late withdrawal from the heats of the Zurich 100m with a reported stomach bug. Lewis's reported comment earlier this season that he did not regard Christie as the world's No 1 sprinter, even though he had won the Olympic and world titles, gave real offence to a man who needs to feel he is being given respect. That concern is what keeps him going in the sport at the age of 34.

'I don't think there was anything wrong with Lewis,' Christie said. 'People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones; he wasn't going to make the final.'

As in the Olympic Games and last year's World Championships, Christie had proved himself the best competitor at the most important moment of the season. Lewis had not shown. The world record holder, Leroy Burrell, finished seventh after qualifying from his heat by the toss of a coin, then complained of a tendon injury. Dennis Mitchell, the man in form with five sub-10 second runs this season, was fourth. The self-styled championship racer had done it again.

Christie's immediate concerns are with tonight's 100m in Brussels, and next week's Commonwealth Games, where he will seek to retain his title. But on Wednesday night he was looking beyond, to the future both for himself and British athletics.

'I won't be here forever,' he said. 'Two years maximum. And I'll take it a year at a time. We need some new personalities to come through. Sponsors have been dropping in and out of British athletics and crowds have been going a little bit. It's all in bits and pieces. We need to do something so we can keep one big sponsor in the sport for a long time.'

He looked forward to meeting Peter Radford, executive chairman of the British Athletic Federation. 'We need to get together - Peter, myself, team management and others - to sort out the future of British athletics.'

Even if the exact nature of what Christie proposes is unclear, Radford will welcome the positive mood in which the suggestions have been offered.

Christie was not happy about being reprimanded at the European Championships for wearing a T-shirt that alluded to his shoe sponsors and encroaching on to the infield to advise Dalton Grant during the high jump. But the federation will be keen to improve their relationship with one of the key figures in the sport as they push ahead with their plan to establish a form of contractual arrangement with leading athletes next year.

If the British team captain - who is already effectively contracted to the federation through an agreement to run in all the major domestic competitions - relays positive signals to the many athletes over whom he has influence, the arrival of the new scheme will be hastened.

In the meantime, Christie faces a re-match with Mitchell and the man second to him in Zurich, Jon Drummond. Burrell has pulled out of tonight's Ivo Van Damme Memorial meeting. In the 5,000m, Haile Guebre Silasie, of Ethiopia, attempts to lower his world record of 12min 56.96sec.

(Photograph omitted)

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