Christie faces his last big challenge

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The Independent Online
Athletics

Despite its status as the most lucrative grand prix event on the circuit, with a budget of $6m (pounds 3.7m) today's Zurich Grand Prix has proved to be a meeting too far for a battered and weary band of Olympic champions.

Injuries mean that Michael Johnson (200/400metres), Noureddine Morceli (1500m), and Jan Zelezny (javelin) are all missing out on potential fortunes; Allen Johnson (110m hurdles) and Venuste Niyongabo (5,000m) are doubtful.

But the Weltklasse's tradition of excellence, and the football-style fervour of the Letzigrund Stadium spectators, will ensure that there will be sufficient performances of quality to maintain the meeting's good name.

If there is an athlete to whom tonight means more than Linford Christie, it is hard to think of one. Zurich has always been the place where the Briton has made a point - whether it has been in defeating the leading Americans, or - as last year - in gaining revenge over the man who had taken his world 100m title two weeks earlier, Donovan Bailey.

Now Bailey has annexed the 36-year-old Briton's Olympic title as well. Christie's disqualification from the Olympic final for two false starts means we will never know how close he might have got to the man who went on the lower the world record to 9.84sec. On all the evidence, it would not have been very close.

But, as Christie said after making his final appearance at Crystal Palace on Sunday, "you never know with me." He will have all the motivation in the world tonight as he goes to the line with Bailey and Ato Boldon, the Atlanta bronze medallist who accused him of putting his opponents off by refusing to go quietly when he was disqualified. It looks like the last big challenge of his career.

Jonathan Edwards, who was unable to jump further than 16.93m at Crystal Palace, is seeking a performance of a different order as he prepares to take on the man who deprived him of the Olympic triple jump title, Kenny Harrison. But his body is clearly registering end-of-season weariness.

"I'm pleading with it to let me perform," said Edwards, who faces the American twice in the next six days. "Part of me says rest for the next three months and then start training for the World Championships next year. But I hope this will kick-start the rest of my season. If a head- to-head with Harrison doesn't get me fired up, nothing will."

Victory would keep Edwards in contention for a share of the pounds 160,000- worth of gold bars on offer for success in all the "Golden Four" meetings. The Atlanta silver medallist has already won in Oslo and plans to compete in the remaining two designated meetings - Brussels and Berlin.

He is also in the running for a big pay day at next month's grand prix final in Milan. "Every top athlete wants to win in Zurich, the biggest of the one-day meetings," Edwards said. "It would go some way to redressing the balance for me. But whatever happens Kenny has the one that really matters.

"What would probably please more than any financial reward would be to jump 18 metres again. It would be frustrating if I didn't do that this season." Edwards will take on Harrison again on home ground at Gateshead on Monday.

Johnson's absence from the 400m with a hamstring injury offers Roger Black, silver medallist behind him in Atlanta, the rare opportunity of a Weltklasse victory. Black, the British record-holder at 44.37sec, would love to find the extra stride to threaten Thomas Schonlebe's nine-year- old European best of 44.33. But he will have his work cut out to beat Mark Richardson, who looked more like a man at the peak of his form in defeating him over 300m at Crystal Palace.

Richardson, with a best of 44.52, failed to earn an individual 400m place after suffering from food poisoning before Britain's Olympic trials. "I am convinced I would have featured in Atlanta," said Richardson, who won a silver in the relay team. "But that's in the past. I have to concentrate now on Roger's record."

The race of the night could be in the 800m where the Kenyan-born adopted Dane Wilson Kipketer, who missed out on the Games, continues his pursuit of Seb Coe's 15-year-old world record against gold medallist Vebjorn Rodal.

The organisers said Michael Johnson would miss the Weltklasse meeting because of the knee injury he incurred in completing his Olympic double on Atlanta's fast but unforgivingly hard track. Morceli will also be absent because he is still struggling with a problem with his ankle which was spiked during his Olympic victory.

Zelezny has withdrawn because his throwing arm is hurting after a trial for the Atlanta Braves baseball team last week. There are also questions over Allen Johnson, who is suffering with a wisdom tooth, and Burundi's Niyongabo who has a back problem.

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