Athletics: Stage set for Christie-Lewis 2

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The Independent Online
THE head-to-head in Gateshead between Linford Christie and Carl Lewis on Friday evening may have been only the first in a best-of- three series. After Christie's resounding victory the two will certainly meet at the world athletics championships in Stuttgart in two weeks' time, but they could face each other as early as Wednesday in the Zurich Weltklasse grand prix meeting - the richest on the circuit.

Christie has pulled out of the Cologne grand prix today, which clears the way for a rewarding re- match before the pair meet up in Stuttgart to contest the world title.

On Friday Christie did all that was asked of him. He beat his predecessor as Olympic champion by a metre and a half. Lewis had been the only man missing from the Barcelona line-up whose absence had mattered to Christie. There were all sorts of possible venues, but with little more than a month to go to the world championships, British athletics' promotions officer, Andy Norman, concocted the 'Today Newspaper 100 metres' within the Gateshead meeting, the spoils to be shared equally by winner and loser.

Lewis had earlier accused Christie of dodging him in European grand prix meetings. An incidental meeting in a third country would not have generated the same promotional heat as it did when more artfully billed. After Friday's race Lewis was prepared to admit: 'I don't need the money, but it's nice to get a little extra.'

To yield that bit extra, the race had to be milked hard. Christie might complain about it, as he did later, but he also benefited. Putting the record straight, he said: 'There is no animosity between me and Carl. The media creates animosity between athletes because they believe it's boxing. This is not boxing; it's not about aggression, it's about relaxation. The guy who runs fastest and stays relaxed the longest is the guy that is going to win the race.'

That guy had been Linford Christie, and he had done well to stay relaxed right through until the post-race interviews.

The excitement in the stadium had been carefully orchestrated towards the big event, with regular announcements counting down towards the clash. Lewis was first into his lane, having a few more layers of protective clothing to peel off. He had arrived a day earlier from the 95F heat of Houston. A television crew were recumbent in the adjoining lane filming the disrobing process. A rainbow appeared on cue over the other end of the stadium, showing the way to the crock of gold.

Christie took his position and held it patiently, awaiting the 'set' command while Lewis kept upright, flexing limbs longer than anyone else, playing on nerves. The process was repeated after Jon Drummond false-started, on Christie's left in lane three. Getting it right second time, Drummond led out of the blocks. Lewis took almost as long getting out of them as he had just spent settling in. He was hopelessly adrift from the start, although he later claimed: 'I felt that I drove out pretty good, but I just didn't have that sharpness there in the middle.'

Christie was sharp enough. He later claimed that 'I'm only worried about me in my lane,' but he also said that he had specifically asked for Drummond to be in the race. 'I know Jon gets out quick, and I wanted to stay as close to him as possible,' he said. Christie stuck close through the middle part of the race and eased past Drummond with 20 metres to go. By then Lewis had recovered himself, but he could make up no ground on Christie, and precious little on Drummond.

Christie was immediately swept into a lap of honour by a phalanx of supporters that had appeared on the bend, and which included many athletes who had completed their events. The television buggy led the parade, and the photographers went in pursuit. Slowing to a walk halfway round, Christie completed the lap by embracing his father in the home straight.

The combatants were reunited in front of Jim Rosenthal's ITV monitor on the infield, for the race post-mortem. While Lewis waited his turn, Drummond gave him a consoling pat on the shoulder. This was the stuff of championship finals. It's not what normally happens simply when one athlete defeats another. Cynical of media presentation or not, Christie played his part to the full.

Later asked about the absence of Andre Cason, the world leader since he defeated Lewis in the US trials, Christie responded angrily: 'In the history books, they're not going to say who missed it. Everyone who was supposed to be there was there, and I won.'

He did that, but it was not history, it was entertainment. Both victor and vanquished immediately started talking of the re- match at the world championship. 'Psychologically it's good for me, it gives me confidence,' Christie said. 'Carl has got to pick himself up and get ready for Stuttgart.'

Lewis was already doing that. 'I'm not going to make excuses,' he said. 'Linford won today. The next meet (with or without Christie) is in Zurich, the weather will be a little bit nicer, and it should be even better in Stuttgart.'