Athletics: Christie veto puts pressure on Jackson

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THE absence of Linford Christie from tonight's Weltklasse Grand Prix meeting in Zurich has disappointed the organisers, who expected to line up the Olympic 100 metres champion against the world record holder, Carl Lewis.

The Weltklasse, acknowledged as the world's most prestigious meeting, has a budget of 3.8m Swiss francs ( pounds 1.5m). Such a sum means that most athletes, particularly Olympic champions, can be bought, whatever the cost.

The promoter, Andreas Brugger, is the most influential in the sport, and yesterday he was not happy with Christie turning him down. It is something few people have ever done to the 'Godfather' of athletics. The simple truth is everyone wants to compete in Zurich.

It appears if Christie had accepted Brugger's offer, a large proportion of the budget, probably in excess of pounds 18,000, might have come the Englishman's way. 'Mr Brugger feels very bad about it,' Armando Garganigo, the press spokesman, said. 'It's not a question of money. Linford decided he didn't wish to race Carl Lewis and wanted a separate 100m race.

'That's not how things happen here. Carl ran here against anybody when he was Olympic champion and sometimes lost races. If Christie thinks he would lose out on sponsorship if beaten, he is wrong.'

In fairness, Christie has looked a tired man in his two races since Barcelona, and was beaten in Cologne last Sunday by Olapade Adeniken of Nigeria. The 32-year- old returned from Germany nursing a tight hamstring. As Olympic champion, he no longer needs to run purely for financial reasons. Indeed, his status now means he can decide where and when the meeting with Lewis occurs.

But this will only happen when he is in peak form. Christie's business colleague, Fatima Whitbread, summed it up perfectly: 'It would be wrong of Linford to run against Carl when not 100 per cent fit, particularly in such a high-profile meeting as the Weltkasse.'

In Christie's absence, Colin Jackson is the likeliest athlete to make an impression from the large British contingent here. After a disastrous Olympic Games, the Welshman has had confidence-inspiring 110m hurdles victories in Monte Carlo and Cologne.

Last weekend he lowered his European record to 13.04sec. On the fast Letzigrund track this evening, he believes he can break the world record of 12.92. That was set in the same stadium three years ago by Roger Kingdom, when Jackson finished second. The American will be in opposition, but the Olympic champion, Mark McKoy, and bronze-medallist Jack Pierce are absent.

The biggest threat to Jackson may come from Greg Foster, three times winner of the world title, who missed selection for the US Olympic team. America's Tony Dees, Tony Jarrett, Florian Schwarthoff and Emilio Valle, of Cuba, all Barcelona finalists, plus former world record holder Renaldo Nehemiah, complete the line-up.

Jackson might pull it off, but the 3,000m steeplechase seems an event where the world record is more likely to be broken. The world champion, Moses Kiptanui, missed the Olympics. In Monaco last week he easily beat the gold- medallist, his fellow Kenyan, Matthew Birir. On Sunday in Cologne, the 20-year-old displayed his awesome talent when setting a new 3,000m flat mark of 7min 28.96sec. With seven other Kenyans competing, their uninhibited style might break Peter Koech's three-year-old mark of 8:05.35.

David Grindley the 19-year-old from Wigan who surprised everyone by breaking the British 400m record in the Olympic semi-final, runs against Quincy Watts, who amazed with his 43.50sec victory in Barcelona. There are many other Olympic replays at a meeting which, even without Christie, remains the best in the world.