Athletics: Mackie the bearer of the baton

Simon Turnbull talks to the leading sprinter running in Christie's spikemarks
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The Independent Online
For half an hour before the British Championship 100m final Ian Mackie could be seen prowling the length of the home straight at the Alexander Stadium, his tunnel vision gaze fixed beyond the finish line. The burden of expectation, it seemed, was weighing heavily upon the young man destined to carry Linford Christie's mantle. "Not at all, actually," Mackie insisted. "I was only out on the track that long because you weren't allowed to wear spikes on the astroturf warm-up area outside. It was just my normal warm-up routine, which I usually do out of sight."

When the first round of the 100m is held in the Olympic Stadium in Athens on Saturday morning it is Christie who will be conspicuously out of sight, absent from major championship action for the first time since the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. In the absence of the retiring speed merchant, whose veteran's honours include gold medals from the 1992 Olympics and 1993 World Championships, Mackie will lead the British challenge in the short sprint. Semi-finalist at the Olympic Games in Atlanta 12 months ago and twice a claimant of Christie's prized scalp, the 22-year-old from Dunfermline - "the Fife flyer", as Fat Freddie M, the tacky new trackside voice of British athletics, has dubbed him - is the sharpest of the new kids on the blocks.

But how well is he coping with the prospect of picking up the baton from Linford as Britain's new 100m standard-bearer? Very nicely, it would seem. "Pressure?" he queried. "The papers keep writing that I'm going to Athens under pressure. I'm going out as Ian Mackie, another sprinter looking to get to the final. As far as I'm concerned it's no different to when I went to the Olympics last year. I might have beaten Linford twice and become the British champion but I'm still the same person I was 12 months ago."

Mackie's mission is clear. Reaching the World Championship final would rank as more than satisfactory personal progress, though it would by happy coincidence maintain Britain's proud record of featuring in every one. Allan Wells led the patriotic charge with fourth place in Helsinki in 1983 and Christie was third in 1987 (after Ben Johnson's retrospective disqualification), fourth in 1991, first in 1993 and sixth in Gothenburg two years ago. It would be by happy coincidence too, rather than by grand design, if Mackie were to claim the Scottish record Wells established in the Moscow Games in 1980.

"It's not something I can say I think about," he said. "Is it 10.10? Oh, 10.11. That's extremely good. It'll be hard to beat. I do have a target time that I realistically feel I might run this summer but I never think about times when I go into a race. If you run well you'll run fast times and break personal bests." Mackie's 100m best, 10.17sec, which he clocked ahead of Christie in Sheffield last August and equalled in Lausanne three weeks ago, confirms that he is already ahead in the generation game. Christie's fastest at 22 was 10.50; Wells, at the same age, had yet to break 11 seconds.

Mackie's hankering for life in the fast lane can be traced back to the night, in 1991, that he queued for Christie's autograph outside Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh. His coach, John Macdonald, recalled: "Ian started to take his running seriously after he got Linford's autograph. Linford has definitely been the inspiration." Until last autumn, and an overdue domestic redecoration, a poster of Christie could be found pinned to Mackie's bedroom wall. Now, Christie has his hopes pinned on Mackie.

Mackie's training base remains the Pitreavie track where he toils under the supervision of Macdonald, an international fly-fisherman whose daughter, Linsey, became Britain's youngest ever Olympic track and field medallist when she ran in the third-placed 4 x 400m team in Moscow 17 years ago. Since his breakthrough last year, though, the former roof-tiler has joined the stable of athletes managed by Nuff Respect, the company run by Christie and Colin Jackson. And he has made good use of the pedigree grooming service. Jackson has been helping to iron out what Mackie considers to be a less than smooth starting thrust.

"It's my first 30 metres," Mackie said. "I'm not getting my legs turning over quick enough when I come out of the blocks. In Lausanne I pulled in the rest of the field in the last 50 metres but they'd already got away. I believe if I'd got it right there I would have gone under 10.1." Hopefully the new kid will get it right when he comes off his blocks in Athens. "Yes," he mused, "hopefully...We shall find out."

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