Athletics: Mackie's eyes firmly focused on Athens

NEW FACES FOR '97; Mike Rowbottom meets a 21-year-old Scot who last season became the first British sprinter for 10 years to beat Linford Christie over 100 metres
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The Independent Online
A couple of weeks before Christmas, Ian Mackie was sunning himself on the balcony of a Sydney apartment, enjoying the view over Manly beach - and reflecting with a measure of disbelief upon his year.

Christmas 1995 had seen the 6ft 11/2in, powerfully built sprinter working in sub-zero temperatures at the Pitreavie track in his home town of Dunfermline. Injury had ruined his summer season, and he knew there was serious work to be done if he was to make any impression upon Olympic year.

Twelve months on, having reached the Olympic semi-final and become the first Briton in 10 years to defeat Linford Christie over 100 metres, the 21-year-old Scot found himself in with the in crowd - a member of Christie's elite winter training group.

"I was thinking, `here you are'," Mackie recalled. "`Over in Australia training with the best athletes in the world. You've come a long way'."

He has indeed. And as he looks forward to a season which begins this weekend with the Scottish Championships - his only planned indoor meeting - and culminates in the outdoor World Championships in Athens, everything points to him continuing his progress.

Five weeks of intensive training with the likes of Christie, Colin Jackson, John Regis and Darren Braithwaite have done him nothing but good. "I have never worked with such intensity and in such warm conditions," he said. "The temperature was anywhere between 20 and 34C, depending on the time of day. I have definitely come back fitter."

Like everyone else in the group, Mackie worked to schedules set by Christie, whom he describes as his childhood hero. He ran 200's, 800's, and 150's. He also improved his weight training. "By the end of the trip I was power cleaning and bench pressing 115 kilos," he said. "Linford and Colin were doing 140, and John 150. But these guys are a bit more advanced."

Despite his official retirement last season, Christie was not standing by with the stop-watch.

He led his group through their paces, offering advice when required.

"If I was running the bend on a 200, he would notice if, for instance, I was dropping my hips, and tell me to raise them," Mackie said. "You do these things without realising it. Those kind of comments have helped me a lot."

The result may be to establish the Scotsman at the top of British sprinting in Christie's absence, although Mackie acknowledges that he has serious rivals, several of whom - Regis, Braithwaite and Darren Campbell - were with him in Australia.

This season, he aims primarily to improve his personal best time of 10.17sec for the 100m - clocked while beating Christie in blustery conditions at Sheffield - and his two-year-old 200m best of 20.91.

"To make another big jump like I did last season would be incredible," he said. "This season it will be more a question of making gradual improvement."

Mackie's coach, John Macdonald, is just the man to oversee steady pro- gress. Macdonald's daughter, Linsey, who became at 16 the youngest Briton to reach an Olympic track final when she ran the 400m at the 1980 Moscow Games, suffered a premature retirement through injuries ascribed to an overly punishing training schedule. "I think that was one of the reasons John took up coaching," Mackie said. "He has trained me since I was 14, and he has always been careful to take time over things."

For all that, Mackie - who still lives in Dunfermline with his parents, Bill and Carol - has experienced rapidly changing circumstances. A year ago he regarded himself as unemployed. Now, as a signed-up member of the Nuff Respect management group with grand prix invitations coming his way, he can afford to call himself a full-time athlete, even if the funds are not exactly rolling in for him yet.

The frustration of his experience in Atlanta, when he was forced to scratch from the Olympic 100m semi-final because of a hamstring injury, will remain with him. "Nothing will ever compensate for the disappointment of not being able to run in that race," he said.

But there have been some big consolations. Mackie finds himself being recognised now, and not just in his home town.

"Especially after I beat Linford, people were coming up to me and saying, `well done', `how's training?' and `when's your next competition?' It's nice to be recognised for what you do.

"I love competing so much. I just love sprinting. And it makes it that much better when you are being invited to run at places like Stockholm or Lausanne. There are not many 21-year-olds who have been round the world for free like I have."

At one point on his trip down under, Mackie made a point of visiting the site in Sydney where the athletics stadium is being built for the 2000 Olympics. "They were laying the foundations," he said. They were not the only ones.

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