ATHLETICS : Christie withdrawal `damages' Barcelona

Linford Christie's decision to pull out from this week's World Indoor Championships - officially confirmed yesterday - has been described as "not befitting of a champion" by an International Amateur Athletic Federation spokesman.

Christie's withdrawal came to light when he said on German television after Saturday's 60 metres win at Sindelfingen that he did not want to risk getting injured at the championships.

But it transpired yesterday that the British Athletic Federation knew of his change of heart a week ago when Christie phoned the national coach, Malcolm Arnold, after being beaten for the second time in three days in Stockholm. "I am tired from the indoor races I have already run this season following my return from Australia," Christie said in a statement. "I informed the British Athletic Federation of my decision not to compete on 28 February, before the team was announced. They offered to keep my place open for a week in case I felt able to perform at the championships without putting myself at risk of injury for what is going to be a very important outdoor season.

"However, my position has not changed and I will not be competing in Barcelona or the meeting in Valencia which I had planned to do. I am hoping to travel to Barcelona to lend my support to the team from the sidelines."

Christopher Winner, the IAAF spokesman, called Christie's decision "disappointing and disheartening". He said the Olympic and world 100m champion had "damaged the quality of the competition and the credibility of the sport. It is not befitting of a champion".

In the Barcelona schedule, all three rounds of the 60m take place on Friday -a fact which entered Christie's calculations.

Arnold said: "I am as disappointed as anyone. But I respect Linford's decision. Linford spoke to me after the Stockholm meeting and said he was very tired and didn't think he could compete in Barcelona. I said to him: `If you do drop out, Mike Rosswess is there to take the place. But don't make the decision now. Leave it for as long as you like. As long as you give enough time to Mike Rosswess'."

Sue Barrett, Christie's agent, said that Christie had decided to enter the championships after setting a world indoor 200m record at Livin on 19 February.

"I think he thought after Livin that running in Barcelona would not take more out of him. But when he came back down to earth he thought it wasn't worth the risk."

Rosswess accepted his Barcelona call up yesterday, but he will travel in hope rather than expectation, having lost his impetus after the fiasco 10 days ago, when he arrived too late at the KP Invitation in Birmingham because the BAF had not told him that heats were to be run in the 60m. He subsequently saw Darren Braithwaite earn the place alongside Christie.

"After they mucked me about I didn't want to know," Rosswess said. "When they wrote asking me to be the reserve, it was like a token gesture to me. Athletics is very funny. Once you get to a peak and then lose it it is very hard to get it back.

"When you are going to a major championships you have got to be preparing a couple of months beforehand, not a couple of days. You can't get any fitter in that time, you can only keep sharp."

The sequence of events has left the Handsworth sprinter baffled. "Who is running the show?" he asked.