Bailey dashes to the outer limits

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The Independent Online
No one should be betting against Donovan Bailey in the World Championships in Athens in August. If the experience of Gothenburg '95, Atlanta '96 and Toronto '97 - when he wasn't fancied to win but did so in style - is not enough, then his 100 metres demolition of Linford Christie in 9.94 seconds in Nuremberg late on Friday night should be the clincher.

If Bailey can run within a tenth of a second of his world record on a warmish evening in Bavaria, then what is he going to do in the cauldron of the Athens Olympic stadium? It was a leading question, to which Bailey was virtually obliged to respond, as he did: "Another world record". There were few in the Frankenstadion who would dispute it.

To Christie's immense credit, he made it a great race, maybe even clawing back a few margins of the metre he lost in mid-race, and he was rewarded with one of his own best early-season times, 10.05sec in second place, ahead of Davidson Ezinwa of Nigeria.

Christie is obviously still a powerful force in world sprinting, and Bailey admitted that it was the presence of "the big man", as he calls the Briton, which forced him to raise his game after the dismal 10.28sec that he ran behind Ezinwa in rain-soaked Moscow last Sunday.

It has been a feature of Bailey's late-blossoming career that he will lose the occasional minor race, but he was up for this one. It was born of pride, in contrast to the animosity shown to Michael Johnson in Toronto two weeks ago. Bailey and Christie are good friends, indeed their press conference on Thursday was knockabout stuff, Laurel and Hardy style.

But when they got down to business, it was altogether a different genre. Given that Leni Riefenstahl filmed a classic documentary in an adjacent field over 60 years ago, this showdown could have been entitled Triumph of the Will - Part Two. Indeed, this was in two parts itself. The organisers of this excellent meeting, which deserves at least Grand Prix II status, adopted the Zurich format of heats and a final, which Bailey prefers. Having seen Ezinwa and Christie win their heats in 10.20sec and 10.23sec respectively, Bailey blasted out of his blocks to a 10.07sec.

They mused on that for an hour before Christie betrayed himself further with a false start. Then Bailey gobbled them up in less than 10 seconds. As the stadium announcer yelled for about the tenth time of the evening, with an irony that should echo all the way to Michael Johnson's home town of Dallas, "Donovan Bailey - Der Schnellste Mann Der Welt".

As for Christie, he is at present engaged in an extended farewell tour that could teach Frank Sinatra a few things. The Nuremberg organisers ensured he went out in an authentic blaze of glory when they inducted him into the local Hall of Fame amid a fireworks display. It was a nice idea and rather touching, despite making him look like a stranded go-go dancer, alone on top of the podium in his leotard shrouded in smoke and surrounded by flashing lights.

Of course, he said immediately afterwards that he would be back next year, but quickly added that it would be in a supervisory role to his young training charges such as Ian Mackie, Darren Campbell, and Jamie Baulch, who won the 400m impressively after threatening to pull out with an injured back.

But Christie was again adamant on one point: he will not compete in the World Championships. However, his last tour of duty as captain of an official British team brings him back to Bavaria next week, to compete in the European Cup. And on this form, he is bound to add to his already record-breaking run of victories in the 100 and 200m in the competition.

But the following weekend should be far more intriguing. The Christie- Bailey sequel over 150m takes place in Sheffield two weeks today. There's a historical precedent for that one too, and it is not Toronto. Before the World Championships two years ago, Bailey could only finish fourth in Gateshead when Christie won the 150m. But you got the impression that Bailey was treating that as one of those minor races. This one should be different.