Atletics: Day of reckoning for Christie and Mitchell: World records under attack at 'Seven-hour Olympics'

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The Independent Online
THE day of reckoning has arrived for Linford Christie. The Letzigrund Stadium track in Zurich, traditionally fast, has been relaid at a cost of dollars 500,000 ( pounds 330,000) to make it even faster. All is anticipation for a 100 metres competition involving the British world champion and all the leading Americans that could see the world record broken for the second time this season.

In the absence of a real Olympics, the grand prix whose concentrated quality over the years has brought it the nickname 'The Seven- hour Olympics' - with a budget of around pounds 2.5m - stands as a peak for many of the world's leading athletes.

At least five other world records are under threat. Sonia O'Sullivan, Ireland's new European 3,000m champion, seeks to break Paula Ivan's world mile record. Colin Jackson, Christie's friend and training partner, will be trying to lower his own mark of 12.91sec for the 110m hurdles. Jackie Joyner-Kersee seeks the longest ever jump, Maria Mutola chases a new 800m mark and, most intriguingly, the world record holder for the mile, 1500m and 3,000m, Noureddine Morceli of Algeria, runs in a 5,000m race which could challenge the world record of 12min 56.96sec set by Ethiopia's Haile Guebre Silasie earlier this season.

Injury obliged Christie to call off his planned meeting with Leroy Burrell - the man who lowered the world mark to 9.85sec in July - at the Goodwill Games. Now the time has come, but in a field that also includes the world silver medallist, Andre Cason, and Jon Drummond, who beat Christie at Crystal Palace, it is another American sprinter, Dennis Mitchell, who appears in the most convincing form.

Mitchell, who has also beaten Christie once this season, has already run under 10 seconds five times this season. In contrast to Mitchell and Burrell, Christie has not broken 10 seconds this year without wind assistance.

While the Americans have nothing but the grand prix circuit to concentrate on this year, Christie is half-way between two championships - having defended his European title for the second time, he will go to the Commonwealth Games next week to defend another.

What gives Christie a better chance, however, is the fact that three heats will be run with the top two and two fastest losers qualifying for the final, a format Christie believes will be to his advantage. 'If they want to make me the underdog, that's fine by me,' he said. 'It means I can come round the back and snatch the bone. It's a waste of time them trying to upset me. Mentally, I'm the strongest on the track.

'I couldn't achieve what Burrell did in a one-off race. But having heats here suits me. That's why I'm a championship runner. The more there are the better it is for me. The first one warms you up for when it really matters.'

Carl Lewis has pulled out of the meeting because of a stomach ailment picked up during the Goodwill Games.

Physically, despite a couple of injury niggles, Jackson believes he is in comparable shape to last year when he set the world record at the Stuttgart World Championships. The twice Olympic champion, Roger Kingdom, who set a world record in Zurich in 1989, is in the field along with another American veteran, the three times world champion, Greg Foster.

England have asked Linford Christie to run the 200m as well as the 100m in the Commonwealth Games. There is a vacancy owing to Solomon Wariso's withdrawal. Christie has not yet given his answer.

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