Athletics: Christie takes Adeniken in his stride

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The Independent Online
IT WAS, as Linford Christie admitted afterwards, one of the longest 100 metres he had ever run. Having pulled away from the rest of the World Cup field by the final third of the race in the 91 per cent humidity of the Estadio Panamericano, the Olympic champion was able to propel his weary limbs across the line in the relatively sedate time of 10.21sec, knowing that his duty as Britain's captain was done.

Apart, that is, from tomorrow's 200m, where he has been drafted in following John Regis's injury in a bizarre jet-ski accident. At least he has not been asked to cover in the high jump yet.

'Maybe all the others were as tired as I am,' he said. 'I could easily have decided I didn't want to be here but as team captain I can't expect anyone to be here if I'm not. Now I'm going to have a day's rest and get my bones together. I'm not as young as I used to be.'

There was a small extra measure of satisfaction for Christie, in that he had beaten a man who has earned four victories over him in the course of the season - Olapade Adeniken of Nigeria - but the one statistical detail this year which still concerns him is whether Track and Field News, the venerated US sporting publication, will rank him world No 1 in the event. He has not raced Carl Lewis since winning in Barcelona, preferring to set that meeting up on his terms next season, but he feels he has done enough to merit the top rating, even though his Olympic winning time of 9.96 has been bettered by two men. Why Christie should appear to care so much about the rating is another question. 'Everybody seems to go by it,' he says, by way of explanation. Even as an Olympic champion he retains his old insecurities.

While Christie effectively had to win his event in a competition which may not be held again in an increasingly crowded calendar, Dave Sharpe and Jon Ridgeon, respectively winner of the 800m and runner-up in the 400m hurdles, had nothing to lose. And yet both had something to prove as well.

Ridgeon, now 25, has always been an intensely competitive athlete, a characteristic which helped him become world silver medallist over 110m hurdles five years ago. Throughout the debilitating and demoralising run of injuries which have wiped out most of his career in the intervening years, that keeness of mind has remained; and when, frustratingly, he narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Olympics over the high hurdles, he made the hard decision to accept that the old edge over the shorter distance was unlikely to return and to turn instead to the 400m hurdles.

Friday night's race, against the world champion Samuel Matete, was effectively his Olympics, and although his hopes of a personal best were ruined by the water which lay on the track after the torrential downpour which had caused the opening ceremony to be cancelled, he clearly pushed himself to the limit in finishing a few strides behind the African in 49.01sec.

A couple of minutes after the race, he nobly broke off his conversation - 'Excuse me, chaps. I'll be back in a minute' - and was neatly sick. 'One day I'll find this easy,' he said on his return.

After just 12 weeks in his new event, nevertheless, he is giving a very convincing impression of being suited to the discipline. He has already run 48.73, which only three other Britons - Kriss Akabusi, who holds the national record at 47.82, David Hemery and Alan Pascoe - have surpassed. And his performance here, where he was on terms with Matete until the final hurdle, indicated that there is plenty more to come, especially after he gets stuck into a hard winter's work on his endurance over the hills of Hampshire with Akabusi and the rest of Mike Whittingham's training group.

'Kriss is still the man, and it will be a privilege to train with him,' Ridgeon said. 'I will never be as strong as him, but he will never be as good over the hurdles as me. It's a matter of working at it from different directions.'

For Sharpe - who defeated a field including the Olympic champion, William Tanui, and the distinguished Brazilian Jose Luiz Barbosa, with a burst from back to front in the final 200 metres - victory had a bittersweet quality. If only he had been able to produce such form at the time of the Olympic trials, where he failed to qualify after finishing fourth in what was, for him, an unexpectedly swift race.

All he can do now is look to next season and the prospect of gaining medals at the world indoor and outdoor championships. Despite the advice of his training partner, Steve Cram, he does not intend to try his luck at the 1500m yet. 'Unless I could run 3min 32sec, 3:33 I would be wasting my time,' he said. 'I don't want to dice with other distances when I am still capable of running 1:43. I'm an out-and-out 800m man.'