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Bubka bows out as Christie falls short

The sixth day of Olympic athletics became one long goodbye yesterday as a succession of champions disappeared earlier than schedule - Sergei Bubka, Haile Gebrselassie, Sonia O'Sullivan and, with more of a whimper than a bang, Linford Christie.

The 36-year-old Briton, emotionally traumatised by his disqualification from the 100 metres final on Saturday night for two false starts, was not expected to do great things in the 200m, but he must have hoped to reach today's semi-final at least. That progression was denied him when he finished outside the first three places in his heat in 20.59sec and failed to claim the place for the fastest loser, which went to Sergejs Insakovs of Latvia with 20.58.

Thus Christie, having ceded his 100m title, had made his last impact upon the Olympics as an individual. He was not in the mood to talk afterwards, but Ato Boldon, winner of Christie's heat in 20.25, went out of his way to mention the row which the two had had after the 100m final, when the Trinidadian had accused Christie of affecting his concentration when he disputed the disqualification. "Just so everybody knows," Boldon said, "Christie and I have kissed and made up, like real men should."

Bubka, the world's greatest pole vaulter, walked from the Olympic arena in the morning after an Achilles tendon injury prevented him from taking part in the qualifying competition. The 32-year-old Ukrainian, who has set 35 world records, explained at a press conference that he had put his injury to the test early yesterday morning. "When I started to jog there was pain," he said, struggling to contain his emotions. "I knew I could not run, and if you can't run, you can't jump. I'm a good fighter but the pain was just too big. For me it is a tragedy. I have pain in my ankle and in my heart as well."

He had incurred his latest injury a month ago, and had been having injections and pills in a vain effort to counterract it. Bubka, who won the Olympic title in 1988, had been anxious to erase the memory of his last Olympic performance in Barcelona, where he failed to clear a height. But it was not to be.

It was sad blow to the Games, and there was a further one later in the day as Gebrselassie, winner of the 10,000m on Monday, gave up his attempt to win a double here when he pulled out of the 5,000m heats. The Ethiopian world record holder had complained bitterly after his 10,000m final that the track, designed to be as hard as legally possible to encourage fast sprinting, had caused his feet to be badly damaged.

Ireland's Games, which began with a startling shower of gold from their swimmer Michelle Smith, have taken a dramatic turn for the worse on the track. Sonia O'Sullivan, who came into these Games with the prospect of winning gold at 5,000 or 1500m or even both, left with nothing yesterday.

Ireland's world 5,000m champion trailed home 10th and last in her 1500m heat, still suffering from the stomach bug which caused her to drop out of the 5,000m final on Sunday night.

"I just had no energy," she said. "I suppose it's all over now." Asked if she was disappointed, she replied: "That's the understatement of the year," before leaving the stadium.

O'Sullivan's departure, and the withdrawal of the 800m bronze medallist Maria Mutola, who is suffering from a cold, has created a greater opportunity for Kelly Holmes to gain a tangible reward in the 1500m after her disappointment in the 800m final, where she came fourth after having a painkilling injection to counterract the effect of the hairline fracture which has been discovered just above her right ankle.

After qualifying without undue stress in her 1500m first round heat yesterday, she said: "I'm ready to risk everything to run here. Since the age of 14 I've wanted to run at the Olympics. I will compete even if that means long-term problems because you live your life for something like this. With Mutola and O'Sullivan out now, I've got a good chance of a medal.

"I have discussed the best and the worst scenarios for the injury with my medical advisers," she said. "The worst scenario is that if I twisted I could end up having to be carried off and having a steel plate put in my leg." Whatever happens, these Games will be Holmes's last competitive action of the season.

Sally Gunnell, another champion who departed these Games with injury on Monday night - the night of her 30th birthday - was due to have a scan on her troublesome heel last night which would decide her future.

"If it means another operation, that would be that," she said after arriving at a press conference for her shoe company on crutches. "I couldn't go through what I have been through again."

Meanwhile her eight-year-old British 100m hurdles record of 12.82 was beaten by 23-year-old Angie Thorp, who ran 12.80 in her semi-final but missed out on qualification for the final by one place.

Gunnell's successor as Olympic 400m hurdles champion was Deon Hemmings,of Jamaica, the first Jamaican woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a time of 52.82sec. Kim Batten, who broke Gunnell's world record at last year's world championships was second in 53.08, and her compatriot Tonja Buford- Bailey third in 53.22.

More reports, pages 26 and 27, Results, page 27