Athletics / World Athletics Championships: Christie the supreme champion: British sprinter within an ace of world record as he subdues awesome American challenge

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LINFORD CHRISTIE last night became the athlete who has it all. In a World Championship 100 metres final that rivalled the claims of the one that took place in Tokyo two years ago to being the greatest race of all time, he won in a time of 9.87sec, just 0.01sec outside Carl Lewis's world record.

Thus, at 33, Christie holds the European, Commonwealth, Olympic and now world titles. It is a feat which only one Briton, Daley Thompson, has managed before. 'Daley was a great athlete,' Christie said, 'but this is my time.'

Dennis Mitchell, wandering round the track in Christie's triumphal wake, summed the race up after running 9.99sec, shrugging to the crowd with arms outstretched and then holding up three fingers, as if to say: I do all that, and I'm only third.

Christie knew that feeling well two years ago in Tokyo, when he lowered the European record to 9.92sec and did not even win a medal. In his disappointment, he talked about quitting before thinking better of it. A good decision, on balance.

Stuttgart was where it all began for him, as he won his first major outdoor title here at the 1986 European Championships. This would be a fitting finale to a career which only began in earnest when he was 26. But Christie intends to go on for another year, for one final go at the Commonwealth and European championships.

'This is even better than winning the Olympics because everyone was here,' he said, referring to Lewis's absence from the 100m at Barcelona last year. Yesterday the 1991 world champion looked a dejected, hollow-eyed figure after finishing fourth. His hopes of picking up form late after his defeats by Christie in Gateshead and Zurich had been unfounded.

Before the final, Christie stood, silent and intent, staring towards the finish line but looking deep into himself, just as before last summer's Olympic final. As his opponents fidgeted, flexed their muscles, bounced on the spot or adjusted their shorts, the feeling grew that Christie's experience and will would prove superior.

The race began unpredictably. The official figures showed that Cason, the fast starter, the world 60m record- holder, was actually slowest off the blocks with a reaction time of 0.183sec. And Christie, for whom the start has always been the weakest part of the race, was away in 0.140, which only Mitchell bettered.

But as the runners approached the half-way mark, traditionally where Christie and Lewis start to move through the gears, it was the driving figure of Cason who came through to challenge the Briton. Then Christie's power saw him draw away to claim the title he always believed he would win.

'I saw either side of me and no one was ahead,' Christie said. 'I knew that no one was going to go past me at that stage. Cason was flying in the early rounds, but I didn't want to do to much too soon. I knew that I had to get out before Cason - before the 'B' in Bang]'

That he had finished so narrowly outside the world record was the only disappointment for Christie. Yet it could be argued that his time was superior, as the track on which Lewis set his record in 1991, and on which six men ran under 10 seconds, did not comply with international specifications and favoured sprinters. But Christie has no need of such arguments, as he himself realises. 'I don't go out there to break records, I go out there to win medals. Medals are yours to keep forever. Records are there to be broken.'

Afterwards he paid tribute to his long-time coach, Ron Roddan, who spotted his potential and coerced him into training properly in the early 1980s. 'Ron is the real world champion,' he said. 'He saved my life.'

Cason, who spends his winters weight-training with boxers in Virginia Beach, had learned the truth of the noble art's first adage: a good big 'un will always beat a good little 'un. 'My day is coming,' he had declared before last month's 100m in Zurich. No doubt it is - he is only 24. But his day did not come in Zurich and, despite his performance in setting personal bests in three consecutive races, it did not come in Stuttgart.

The US champion has been withdrawn to the point of sullenness this week. But his reaction after the race - to go over and embrace the man who has made him wait at least another season for the major title his talent warrants - was a big-hearted one.

His apparently inexorable improvement in these championships had been continued in the semi-final, where he lowered the personal best of 9.96 he had set the previous day by winning in 9.94. It was a hard act for Christie to follow, but his response was as impressive as he reached the final with a victory in 9.97sec.

In the women's 800m, Diane Modahl reached tomorrow's final but Kelly Holmes finished outside the first four in her semi, despite a personal best of 1:58.65, quicker than Modahl.

Uproar over walkers, page 25

Results, page 29

----------------------------------------------------------------- MEN'S 100m FINAL ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 Linford Christie (GB) 9.87sec 2 Andre Cason (US) 9.92 3 Dennis Mitchell (US) 9.99 4 Carl Lewis (US) 10.02 5 Bruny Surin (Can) 10.02 6 Frankie Fredericks (Nam) 10.03 7 Daniel Effiong (Nigeria) 10.04 8 Raymond Stewart (Jam) 10.18 ----------------------------------------------------------------- THE FASTEST 100 METRES OF ALL TIME ----------------------------------------------------------------- 1 9.86sec Carl Lewis (US) Tokyo, 25 Aug 1991 2 9.87 LINFORD CHRISTIE (GB) Stuttgart, 15 Aug 1993 3 9.88 Leroy Burrell (US) Tokyo, 25 Aug 1991 4 9.90 Burrell New York, 14 Jun 1991 5 9.91 Dennis Mitchell (US) Tokyo, 25 Aug 1991 6=9.92 Lewis, Seoul, 24 Sept 1988 6=9.92 Christie, Tokyo, 25 Aug 1991 6=9.92 ANDRE CASON (US) Stuttgart, 15 Aug 1993 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)