Athletics: Climate and form point to a Christie victory: World and Olympic champions play down the implications of tonight's Gateshead showdown for World Championships in Stuttgart

CARL LEWIS flew into Britain on business last night. If he gets a result, it will be worth pounds 100,000 to him. If he doesn't get a result, it will be worth pounds 100,000 to him.

The question of money at tonight's high-profile, high-earning 100 metres challenge against Linford Christie, who takes an equal share, has already been settled. Two others remain. Who will win? Does it matter?

The weather forecast for the Gateshead area later today - showers, sometimes heavy, moving from the west, light to moderate south-west winds - offers a strong climatic case for the home runner. Especially when one considers that the expected temperature of 66F is nearly 30 below what Lewis has been training in every day in his home city of Houston.

'If it is cold in Gateshead,' Lewis said this week, 'it doesn't matter, because that is a factor I cannot change. I have to deal with it.'

It sounded like the kind of thing football managers say after they say, 'I don't want to make excuses, but. . .' Then again, he showed in Lausanne last month, when a chill wind was tugging at the flags around the rim of the Stade de la Pontaise, that he does not need exotic conditions to flourish. His victory in 19.99sec, over a 200m field which included the Olympic champion, his Santa Monica team-mate Mike Marsh and the world champion, Michael Johnson, was highly significant. Both for him, and the hothouse world of sprinting, where conclusions had been drawn about advancing age after the 32-year-old had struggled to qualify for the World Championships in third place at the US Olympic trials.

That marked the end of the European tour part 1 for Lewis. He now embarks on part 2, starting at the Vauxhall Invitation meeting in Gateshead tonight and proceeding to Zurich on Wednesday en route to the World Championships, which start in Stuttgart on 14 August.

Unlike Christie, who is unbeaten in five 100m races this season, Lewis has not won once in four attempts. But his legal best of 10.07 is only one hundredth of a second slower than Christie's this year. And in between his European trips he has worked hard on his start and pick-up. 'I'm in the condition now that everyone else was a month ago,' he says. Add to that his career record over Christie at 100m - 12 wins to one - and a case begins to be formed for the American.

Christie has done all that has been asked of him so far this season, winning at the European Cup and in Oslo. But despite his avowals that there is no problem with his back, he has not always looked fluent and has had to work harder than usual in the later stages of his races.

That, of course, is where Lewis has always gone for the kill. These two are the fastest finishers in the world; the Gateshead track is likely to bear scorchmarks around 70 metres. Given the weather, and that intangible, home advantage, Christie should win.

There is a faint possibility that one of the 100m bit players, such as Calvin Smith, the former world record holder who ran Christie close in Edinburgh, or John Drummond, the World Student Games champion who also stretched him at Crystal Palace, might upset the carefully prepared drama.

That would be very inconvenient for the event as a promotion - Leroy Burrell, who had wanted to run the 100m, has been switched to the 200m. While the race has not attracted the US television channels, an expected British television audience of 10 million viewers will not want or expect the Olympic champion and the world champion to fill supporting places.

But would it matter? Lewis talked about the confidence boost such a victory would have - 'It will set the tone for people to judge our competitive spirit by.' But he says it will be no guide to Stuttgart. Christie also says victory here will not mean victory in the World Championships. It may be that a result - in the form of expected ratings - will be most vital to one of the main sponsors, ITV, who will soon have to renegotiate their contract for athletics.

Elsewhere, there are less expensive but nevertheless pressing matters to be decided. Steve Cram seeks a 1500m qualifying time in front of his home crowd, Britain's women 1500m runners seek anybody who can gain a qualifying time, and in a high quality 300m, Marsh, Johnson and Britain's John Regis test their relative merits.

Lewis' sprint rivalry, page 32

----------------------------------------------------------------- CHRISTIE v LEWIS: THE COMPLETE RECORD ----------------------------------------------------------------- Date Dist Venue Round Result Aug 86 100m Zurich - 3 Lewis 10.25; 5 Christie 10.27 Jun 87 100m Madrid - 1 L 10.12; 4 C 10.22 Aug 87 100m Rome W Champ final 1 L 9.93; 3 C 10.14* Aug 88 100m Zurich - 1 L 9.93; 5 C 10.07 Sep 88 100m Seoul Olympic final 1 L 9.92; 2 C 9.97* Sep 88 200m Seoul Olympic final 2 L 19.79; 4 C 20.09 (GB R) Aug 89 100m Zurich - 1 L 10.09; 5 C 10.23 Sep 89 100m M Carlo - 2 C 10.19; 3 L 10.30 Jul 90 100m Oslo - 1 L 10.26; 2 C 10.27 Aug 91 100m Malmo - 2 L 10.13; 4 C 10.18 Aug 91 100m Zurich - 2 L 10.12; 4 C 10.26 Aug 91 100m Tokyo W Champ q/f 1 L 9.80; 2 C 9.90** Aug 91 100m Tokyo W Champ final 1 L 9.86 (WR); 4 C 9.92 (ER) *Ben Johnson subsequently stripped of title **illegal following wind ----------------------------------------------------------------- CHRISTIE FILE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Born: St Andrews, Jamaica Age: 33 Height: 6ft 2 1/2 in Weight: 12st 9lb Lives: London Club: Thames Valley Harriers Sprint titles: 100m (1992 Olympics; 1986, 1990 Euro pean Championships; 1990 Commonwealth) Fastest 100m: 9.92sec (1991) Records: British, European, Commonwealth Fastest 1993: 10.06sec ----------------------------------------------------------------- LEWIS FILE ----------------------------------------------------------------- Born: Birmingham, Alabama Age: 32 Height: 6ft 2in Weight: 12st 8lb Lives: Houston Club: Santa Monica Track Sprint titles: 100m (1984, 1988 Olympics; 1983, 1987, 1991 World Champion ships). 200m (1984 Olym pics) Fastest 100m: 9.86sec (1991) Records: US, world Fastest 1993: 10.07sec -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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