Athletics: Fitting finale for the peerless Christie

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The Independent Online
Lifting the European Cup, Linford Christie's first task as Britain's team captain eight years ago, became his last yesterday, writes Mike Rowbottom.

As the national anthem played, he turned to his team-mates and used the podium to conduct their singing. It was a richly joyful moment at the end of a richly rewarding international career. "This," he said, "is the best send-off I could hope for."

That Christie should have been the man to accept the trophy after what he insists was his last British appearance was entirely fitting, given his unmatched record of success in this competition since 1987. At 37, he has eight 100 metres titles, five over 200, and remains unbeaten in individual events after yesterday's dead heat over the longer distance.

As he joked and capered among his team-mates on the track, narrowly avoiding a ducking in the steeplechase water jump, he looked like a big schoolboy who had just got out of class.

"I'm going to miss it all," he said. "But I'm glad it's all over. I will be sad because I am going to miss my friends, but there are certain aspects of the sport which I won't miss. Unfortunately, while some things change, other don't."

The criticism was primarily directed towards the British media. "They don't appreciate what the athletes have to do," he said. "They don't see how hard we work - the sweat, the tears and the toil. Every athlete has to do that, whether they are club athletes or internationals. We need a smile in the sport, and the media has to do its bit."

While Christie will remain on the athletics circuit, he plans to expand his work in coaching. What, he was asked, was his message to young athletes hoping to follow in his wake?

"Look after your body, stay clean, don't do drugs. I have never taken any drugs or anything in the years I have been running."

He waxed enthusiastic over the unexpected successes of new team members such as Robert Hough and Mark Sesay: "That's what the team thing is all about. This will give them a lot of confidence. Now they can go off and do other things. When I had my first big win in this competition it changed my life. I thought I could go out and beat the best."

His hunch has been proved right many times since; and at 37, he is still operating at the top end of his field. His victory in Saturday's 100 metres was achieved in a time of 10.04sec, which matched anything he did last year. And his 200m time yesterday of 20.56 was his fastest of the season.

After moving clear of Norway's former European champion Geir Moen, it seemed Christie had done enough to earn his fifth European Cup victory over 200m, but Gergios Panayiotopoulos of Greece, running in the outside lane, came through to join him on the line.

"I didn't see him. I was concentrating on beating Geir," Christie said, before learning that the race had been given as a dead heat.

Before the competition began, Christie gave a glimpse of the carapace of self-belief all great athletes require as he declared, not for the first time, that he was the best. But he believes that his attitude has altered in recent years.

"Winning isn't everything," Christie said. "There are lots of other things in life than winning. Not everybody can be a champion, but everyone can try to be."

Before disappearing from the stadium, Christie made his way up into the stand to show the cup to the flag-waving British supporters. That feeling of being surrounded by goodwill is what he is likely to miss more than anything now that his international career is over.

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