Athletics: Christie's race for riches

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE is poised for the biggest pay day of his career this summer when he takes part in a head-to-head 100 metres race with Carl Lewis which will earn him about dollars 250,000 (pounds 165,000) in appearance money

The event, being put together for the American cable television company, Home Box Office, is scheduled for Las Vegas on 29 May. ITV plans to buy the package from HBO for British viewers.

As well as matching the 100m world record holder and the Olympic champion, the challenge will involve a long jump competition between Lewis and the world record holder, Mike Powell. Lewis, who could not defend his Olympic title in Barcelona after failing at the US trials, can expect to receive at least dollars 500,000 for his efforts.

Joe Douglas, Lewis's manager, plans to finalise the arrangements with HBO representatives next Friday. 'If I were a betting man I would say it was 60-40 that it will happen,' he said yesterday. Andy Norman, the British promotions officer and Christie's manager, was less cautious. 'Linford signed the deal last August after the Olympic Games. It has been the best- kept secret in British athletics.' It explains why Christie was so ill at ease during the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award when confronted with Lewis's televised challenge and questioned about when the two might 'get it on'.

Powell, in Glasgow for today's Pearl International Games which include a match between Great Britain and Russia, maintained the imagery. 'I'm very hopeful that the challenge will go ahead,' he said. 'Carl and I will have six jumps each. It will be like a heavyweight fight over six rounds.'

The governing athletics bodies are likely to view the project with disdain, if not alarm. Certainly the International Amateur Athletic Federation, with whom Douglas and his athletes are in conflict over the question of prize-money at the world championships, will be unhappy about the timing, which clashes with their grand prix meeting in San Jose.

As things stand, only Christie, Lewis and Powell would take part, but Douglas may supplement the field. 'If there is a chance of a world record, I would want enough competitors so it would be a legal competition. If not, I don't care.' Powell felt that such a novelty event would raise interest among a US public which takes little notice of athletics other than during the Olympic Games. 'We have a great track base in the United States, but we are not reaching it. If we have to do events like this then fine.'

Meanwhile, Powell's agent, Brad Hunt, has indicated his strategy in pursuing the interests of another of his clients, Butch Reynolds. The 400m world record holder has an outstanding claim of dollars 27m in damages from the IAAF following a two-year ban for alleged drug abuse; Hunt is seeking to obtain the money from one of the six US- based sponsors of the federation - Mars, Coca-Cola, Mobil, Visa, Reebok, and Quaker Oats - through an attachment order.

The IAAF has refused to recognise the claim, which Reynolds won in an Ohio court last year, and has given him a month to drop his action. 'Once an attachment is successful then I think the IAAF will take a new attitude to the situation,' Hunt said. He hinted that Reynolds might consider a compromise deal. 'Does Butch need dollars 27m for this to go away? No he doesn't. Will Butch endeavour to collect dollars 27m? Yes, he will.'