Athletics: Hanging on the phone for King Carl: Mike Rowbottom finds Carl Lewis slow to run to the receiver

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The Independent Online
IF Carl Lewis takes as long to run 100 metres on Friday as he does to come to the phone, his challenge race against Linford Christie is going to be a one- sided affair.

The American world champion, scheduled to make a telephone link-up with the assembled British press yesterday, took such an age to pick up the receiver after it had been answered by a person unknown that his manager, Joe Douglas, present with the waiting journalists at a London hotel, ventured: 'Maybe he's in the bathroom.'

Two minutes passed. 'Yes,' Douglas concluded. 'I guess he's in the bathroom.'

After five minutes of near-respectful near-silence our audience with King Carl began.

'Right now I am probably in as good a shape as I have ever been in,' he said. 'In Lille and Lausanne I didn't do the things I need to do out of the blocks. In the right conditions, I am definitely in sub 10-second shape. Perhaps 9.8 shape.'

While Gateshead is never likely to supply the right conditions, Lewis and Christie, who will make pounds 100,000 each, can at least be sure of a field which has been reduced - on paper - to a pleasing backdrop for their personal drama. According to Douglas, Leroy Burrell, the world silver medallist and Santa Monica team-mate of Lewis's, was withdrawn in the interests of giving the main rivalry a sharper focus. Burrell is not amused.

Lewis ruled out the suggestion that his arrival only 24 hours before the race - via Concorde - indicated any lack of seriousness on his part. 'I have scheduled two 100 metres races and one 200 metres before the World Championships. They are very serious races. It is better to run immediately when you come to Europe. Generally you feel jet-lagged on your second, third or fourth day over.'

What did he think of Christie's assertion that there would be only one winner in Gateshead, and it would not be Lewis. 'I think that's a wonderful line. I'll give it to Evander Holyfield. He lives here in Houston. . .'

The line was breaking. . . How much of a bearing did he feel victory in Gateshead have on victory in next month's Stuttgart World Championships? Not much. Did he feel he should have been in the Olympic final? Yes he did, but he had been ill at the trials and that was life. The line was breaking. . .

And he was gone. No one had asked him why he had taken so long in the bathroom.

Sotomayor's world record, page 31