Christie feels strain again

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The Independent Online
LINFORD CHRISTIE'S first British appearance of the year ended painfully at the AAA indoor championships at the National Indoor Arena yesterday, when he pulled up midway through the final of the 60 metres with a strained left groin. Though Christie left the arena without comment, an official said he had admitted to feeling the injury earlier.

The Olympic 100m, champion had looking for his 26th national title, had flown out of the blocks, and seemed comfortably in charge of the race when he began to limp and slow down, not quickly enough to suggest a hamstring injury similar to that which cost him his world title last summer, but it was clearly not something to ignore.

He slowly crossed the line and hobbled away to join his coach, Ron Roddan, for ice compress treatment. Meanwhile, Michael Rosswess retained his title for the third time.

Christie had returned from Australia earlier in the week, having won his first outdoor 100m of the season with not much more expenditure of energy than he required in yesterday's early races, in front of a few hundred spectators. He had a casual glance across to see Jason John closing in over the last 10 metres of the semi-final, but it was hardly a worrying challenge. Unhappily for John, when it came to the final, Christie's powerful drive out of the blocks made him believe it was a false start, so he stopped.

That did nothing for Christie, who though he seemed to have the measure of Rosswess, he suddenly found that his hopes, not just in these championships but perhaps for the season, were in jeopardy. An injury this early in the year is ominous for a man of 35, however fit he may appear. An adductor muscle injury need not take more than a fortnight to heal but it can become a recurring weakness.

Christie's cat and mouse game, in which he says one thing about competing in this summer's Olympic Games, and may wait until the last minute to say another, is likely to go on for a long time yet. He badly wants to defy the years and hold off any British challenges to his crowns, and to reply to people such as the world champion, Donovan Bailey, who last week cast aspersions about his credibility by saying he faked injury in Gothenburg.

Yesterday, Christie breezed in as a late entry and, for unwanted reasons, drew attention away from the other British Olympic champion, Sally Gunnell, who was looking for a quiet 400 metres comeback after injuries had cost her the defence of her world title and more than a year of serious competition.

Gunnell has been in South Africa preparing for the season, and needs to know she is fit after an operation to remove a bone spur from her right heel. Her world record for the 400m hurdles has passed to Kim Batten, of the United States.

She admitted that she was "as nervous as I had been at the Olympics, but in a different sort of way". That nervousness dissolved when she first appeared yesterday, unwinding gently but effectively in her first heat, which she ran in 54.80sec. There is only going to be one challenger to her this weekend, the title-holder Melanie Neef, who recorded 54.65sec in her heat.

Qualifying for today's final, Gunnell also won her semi-final comfortably, taking the lead early and making the event as easy as possible for herself. Indeed, her time of 54.20sec was not as fast as that of Neef, who won the other semi-final in 53.81sec. "There were no problems," Gunnell said, "although I stiffened up a bit half-an-hour before the semi-final. It's good to be back."

She plans to run again in Birmingham next weekend, when she will face her old hurdles rival Sandra Farmer-Patrick. Then she goes to Moscow, after which she will make her first international appearance for Britain, against France in Glasgow on 24 February.

In spite of the drama of Christie's injury and the welcome return to comparative fitness by Gunnell, the competitive highlight of the championships yesterday was the pole vaulting of the 22-year-old Nick Buckfield, who raised the British indoor record to 5.61 metres, having improved it to 5.51 earlier in the day and 5.50 only a week earlier.