Athletics: Christie turns up the heat

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The Independent Online
Linford Christie, Britain's champion in exile, demonstrated here last night what British spectators look like missing this summer.

An absentee from Sunday's Gateshead meeting because of his continuing pay dispute with the British Athletic Federation, Christie beat a 100 metres field at the Gaz de France meeting containing his old adversary Carl Lewis, and showed that he is now officially up and running after a slow start to the season.

Christie's domination of the 100m is matched over 200m by Michael Johnson, who destroyed a top-class field including the in-form Olympic champion Mike Marsh, to win in 19.92 - outrageously good given the cool weather. Britain's John Regis found it hard to live with, finishing last in 20.76.

Afterwards, Johnson talked ominously about improving his times this season, with a first effort coming tomorrow in Lausanne. Christie is negotiating to get into that 200m race to test his form in the highest company.

Noureddine Morceli, of Algeria, continues to be to middle distance running what Christie and Johnson are to the sprints. He broke Said Aouita's eight- year-old 2,000m world record of 4min 50.81sec, driving to the line in 4:47.88 before being mobbed by flag-waving supporters.

But Colin Jackson's pre-eminence in the 110m hurdles is being challenged this season by a determined effort from across the Atlantic. He finished behind two Americans last night, Mark Crear getting the verdict over Allen Johnson after both finished in 13.08. Jackson, who missed the European Cup the weekend before last with tonsillitis, recorded 13.28 in third place.

Christie, clad in a bright-red leotard, had had to work hard over the last 30 metres to hold off Davidson Ezinwa, the Nigerian who beat him in Rome last month. "That has given me so much confidence," he said after finishing in 10.06sec in conditions far from ideal for sprinters.

After four consecutive victories over Lewis, the old buzz of that particular confrontation appears to have waned. Christie said. "I still believe that Carl is one of the greatest of all time, but there are a lot of other people out there now."

The chances of him running in this Friday's grand prix at Crystal Palace, and indeed in any of the three main domestic meetings, appear remote. If indeed Christie sticks to his stated intention of retiring at the end of this season, he could be making just one more appearance in his home country.

"Linford will run in the AAA Championships in Birmingham and that could be his only appearance in Britain this season," his agent, Sue Barrett, said yesterday.

Christie was paid around pounds 30,000 to race here against the pounds 70,000 that Lewis received. The fee he has been offered by the Federation to run in Britain is pounds 25,000 per meeting.

On Sunday, the BAF executive chairman, Peter Radford, said that there was "no more money in the pot" to increase the payment offered to Christie and his fellow Nuff Respect athletes, John Regis, and Colin Jackson.

Some observers reckoned that the BAF had saved around pounds 70,000 in appearance money at Sunday's BUPA Games, given that Sally Gunnell was also absent with injury. "What we wonder is," Barrett said, "what happened to the money the BAF saved? They didn't spend it in bringing any other stars, did they?

"This is not just about these three athletes. There is a feeling among athletes in general that they are not being treated correctly. Most are getting less than last year and a lot of people are unhappy. But, of course, only one man is getting the blame, and that is Linford."

British spectators may have lacked their highest profile athlete at the weekend, but the Parisians were not similarly affected last night. Marie- Jose Perec, their world 400m champion, duly appeared in her newly adopted event, the 400m hurdles, performing with a commitment that took her to the brink of exhaustion. She won in 54.59, defeating a field that included all the world's best hurdlers this year, with the exception of Gunnell.

Britain's world champion has been putting a brave face on her Achilles tendon problems by appearing trackside at British meetings, but she is still not able to hurdle in training and time is running out for her in terms of defending her world title.

Perec, whose leggy technique still requires much improvement, may wait until the Briton declares her intentions before deciding herself whether to risk challenging for a new title as well as defending the 400m.

Perec was still rising vertically over the hurdles last night, allowing smoother operators such as Kim Batten and Tonja Buford to close upon her. But the Frenchwoman, clearly responding to her home crowd, managed - just - to keep all her opponents at bay.

n Heike Drechsler, Germany's Olympic long jump champion, is to compete in the heptathlon as well as the long jump at next month's World Championships in Gothenburg, thus setting up a second head-to-head confrontation with Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the defending champion.