Christie at the gateway to Atlanta

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The wheel appropriately turns full circle for Linford Christie this afternoon. As the fastest man in Britain prepares to tell the nation whether a defence of the Olympic 100 metres title figures on his summer schedule, he returns to the track on which he first stepped into the international fast lane.

Christie runs in the Bupa Games 100m at Gateshead today and will end his guessing game at a London press conference tomorrow. After placing third in a blanket finish in Paris on Friday night, the veteran sprinter said he was "80 per cent certain" what to decide. Allan Wells, in whose shadow the teenage Christie trailed on his top-class debut at Gateshead 17 years ago, is convinced by tomorrow night his old adversary will give Georgia 100 per cent of his mind.

Not only that. Wells thinks the man who has blitzed him from the record books will have gained a vital edge from his cloak and dagger approach to Atlanta. "As an Olympic champion going into another Games, I think what Linford has done would offset the pressure," the 100m gold medallist at the Moscow Games said.

"I think Linford maybe went a wee bit too far when he said on television last year that he wasn't going to go to Atlanta. But he was upset at the time and I think he'll be very happy with the way it's worked out for him. It's allowed him to get on with it and gained him a lot of positive publicity, in terms of people supporting him. That can help psychologically. And when it comes to the Olympics, psychology is the most important thing. I think Linford will go to Atlanta. There's no reason for him not to. And I think he'll do well there."

Christie's world-class sprinting CV has already eclipsed that of Wells. It is 10 years since he broke the Scot's British 100m record in Madrid and four years since, at the age of 32, he became the oldest Olympic 100m champion. Wells, now 44 and working as an engineering technician at the University of Surrey, can vividly recall the night in Moscow when he earned that distinction.

But he cannot picture the 19-year-old stripling who lined up alongside him the previous year in the Amoco Games's 100m at Gateshead. It's hardly surprising. He clocked a track record 10.26sec; Christie finished sixth in 11.18sec. "I'm sure it's the same for Linford with the young guys he runs against today," Wells said. "You're too focused at the time to notice them."

Wells doesn't agree with those who expect time to catch up with Christie in Atlanta. He remains unswayed by the more impressive early-season form shown by the 36-year-old's young rivals, notably by Frankie Fredericks, who equalled Christie's Commonwealth record with his 9.87sec clocking in Helsinki on Tuesday. "I wouldn't want to be running 9.87 now," Wells said. "I'd want to be in that shape at the Olym- pics. You have to peak at the right time, and one of the things in Linford's favour is that he relishes the system of four rounds. It brings the best out of him.

"It's always difficult to build yourself up through the four races. You have to keep something back for the final and Linford's a big occasion man." The occasion won't be quite so grand for Christie this afternoon, though he'll want to see off the threat posed by his British team-mate Darren Braithwaite and the second-string American Vince Henderson before declaring his Olympic intentions.

For Steve Backley, though, the stakes will be higher. Sidelined by an Achilles tendon injury all year, the world championship javelin silver medallist must prove his form before being passed fit to throw for gold. The former world record-holder has been peppering the 80m line in training and a mark in that region would rubber-stamp his passage to Georgia.

Jonathan Edwards passed his fitness test with flying golden colours in Helsinki. His best jump of the season, 17.82m, also dispersed the clouds of self-doubt which had been gathering in the mind of the Gateshead Harrier. Anything close to or beyond the 18m mark on his home track today would represent another significant hop, step and jump in the direction of last summer's untouchable form. Edwards, despite early-season troubles, still has not lost since 10 September two years ago, when 15.81m placed him 10th and last in the Grand Prix final in Paris.

Edwards is certainly better placed than the man who has beaten him through the 18m barrier this year. Kenny Harrison's 18.01m in the United States trials was wind-assisted. The 1991 world champion has yet to achieve the official Olympic qualifying standard, 16.85m, and will be pursuing it on the European circuit next week.

One definite confirmation for the Grand Prix meeting in Lausanne on Wednesday night is Michael Johnson, the new 200m world-record holder. Europe, once again, will be talking about 19.66, and all that.