Athletics: Relaxed Christie enjoys morning after: The fastest man in the world is thinking of his future. Mike Rowbottom reports

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IN THE heady aftermath of his triumph here on Sunday night, the Commonwealth, European, Olympic and world 100 metres champion made a call to his coach, Ron Roddan, who had watched his latest victory on television. 'How did you think the race went?' Linford Christie asked. When he put the phone down he had a wry smile on his face. 'Ron said it was slack in the middle.'

Christie will probably never run a race which Roddan, who has coached him for over 15 years, regards as perfect. But even if he did, how could Roddan admit it? There would be nowhere else to go.

As it is, Christie's performance has left him with precious little to aim for at the age of 33. There is nothing else to win, nothing else to prove. Only the world record of 9.86sec set by Carl Lewis two years ago remains as a notional target.

Christie's immediate reaction on crossing the line ahead of Andre Cason and Dennis Mitchell, of the United States, was that he would claim a share of Lewis's mark. 'When I saw 9.87 go up I thought they would give me the record because they've been rounding down quite a few times. But I suppose they want to keep Carl alive for a little bit longer.'

It could be argued that his run was intrinsically the finest ever over 100 metres. Several men have run faster, but they have either been wind-assisted, or in the case of Ben Johnson, drug-assisted. Even Lewis's time at the last World Championships could be viewed as a lesser achievement because the track in Tokyo did not conform to international guidelines and favoured sprinters.

The argument is academic. Christie has the medals, and as Roddan points out, these are his motivation. 'Linford is a championship winner. If it takes 10 seconds to win, he will run 10 seconds. And if it takes 9.8 to win, he'll run 9.8.'

The most difficult task facing Christie now is to decide when to stop. He wants to get out at the top, and rules out the 1996 Olympics. Next year's European and Commonwealth championships are the last big international events on his schedule. But a question about the 1995 World Championship yesterday caused him to waver.

'I think every year I'm pushing it a bit more,' he said. 'I think I can be the best in Britain and Europe for a long time. But these other guys are putting up times that are making me work more and more. If Andre keeps running like this I can't see anyone stopping him in the next few years.'

When the time does come for Christie, he has no clear plan. He will probably develop the promotional business he has set up with Colin Jackson, Britain's top high-hurdler. The idea of coaching attracts him, but Roddan doubts whether his charge has the patience with large groups of mixed ability.

But yesterday, Christie was content to live the victory to the full. His conviction that he would win was encouraged by Cason's energetic warm-up between the semi-finals and final. 'I didn't do that much because I was conscious that there was only an hour between,' Christie said. 'When I saw Andre doing all that I thought it showed his inexperience.'

The conviction deepened at the start as Christie stood, trance-like, amid fidgeting opponents. 'It's like being in a little coma,' he said. 'I'm not aware of the crowd or any of my opponents. It's just me. In the past I've worried about what was happening on either side, and I have run tight. That happened in Seoul and Tokyo. I don't do that any more. I used to run on aggression, but now I have learned that it is the man who stays relaxed the longest who wins the race.'

Christie regards Lewis, the runner on whom he modelled his technique, as the greatest athlete of all time; but Lewis's reported comment - that the Americans were still the dominant sprinting power - elicited a scornful response.

'Carl's the kind of guy who will say anything,' he said. 'It's like they've got two Colt 45s, and I've got a Gattling gun. They are not the biggest force right now. The question in the US should be: 'What's happening to our sprinters?'.'

It is a question that Britain will be asking all too soon. It would be nice if Christie could contribute to the answer.