Christie goes down fighting

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The Independent Online
MIKE ROWBOTTOM

reports from Gothenburg

If it was the end for Linford Christie, it was a desperately sad one. As Donovan Bailey, of Canada, bounded off on a lap of honour here after winning the world 100 metres title the previous owner was prostrate on the track, clutching at the right hamstring which he had strained in the semi-final.

Christie had to make a late decision on whether to run again after getting physiotherapy and testing his leg on the warm-up track beside the main stadium. "If you have got to go down, it is best to go down fighting," he said after finishing sixth in 10.12sec.

For Christie, who truly believed he could retain his title at 35 despite having his season disrupted by injuries to his other hamstring, his toe and his back, it was a personal disaster, but one from which he earned immense credit after putting his reputation on the line when he was far from fully fit.

The triumph was Canada's, with Bailey, who led the 1995 standings, taking the gold medal in 9.97sec, ahead of his friend and team-mate Bruny Surin, who was timed at 10.03sec, the same as the Trinidadian bronze medallist, Ato Boldon.

No decisions were being made about whether the Olympic champion could take any further part in the championships. No announcements have yet been made about whether he will stick to his declared intention of retiring at the end of this season. The feeling in some quarters was that Christie could not resist a last Olympics if he could go into it as world champion. Now it is all open to question.

John Smith, whose coaching group includes Boldon, said: "That's the most courageous thing I've ever seen Linford do on an athletics track."

Verona Elder, Britain's team manager, said: "He is putting a very brave face on it but I know deep down that it is tearing him apart. He told me: 'It would have haunted me for the rest of my days if I didn't go out and run that final. My heart told me I had to do it'."

As Christie acknowledged the crowd before the final, his face seemed full of controlled emotion, rather than its usual resolve. His statuesque stance before the start was compromised by the instinct to shake and check his troublesome leg.

Racing in the unaccustomed position of lane one - having only managed fourth place in his semi-final - he was in touch with Bailey, who got a good start, for most of the race. But when it came to the closing 20 metres, the time when Christie has surged to telling effect for the past 10 years as he has collected a total of 10 major championship gold medals, including Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth titles, he could not respond.

Malcolm Brown, the British team doctor, confirmed that the problem was his hamstring, and that it was too early to say what Christie would do. "We need to assess the injury properly," he said, adding that there would be an examination and an announcement this morning.

"It was severe enough to stop him completing 100 metres in good form," he said. "You saw how good he was for 90 metres. It was Linford's decision whether to run or not. He felt the race was his if he was in shape. It was very brave of him to go ahead."

Afterwards, Christie, with his right leg heavily strapped and an arm over the shoulder of his girlfriend, Mandie Miller, formed the epicentre of a forlorn group which made its way back to the training track where he had tested his leg between rounds.

Colin Jackson, Christie's friend and business partner, was a pensive presence as Christie suffered. He hinted that Christie also had a knee problem which could have been more worrying to him than the hamstring trouble.

Mike Marsh, of the United States, who entered these championships with high expectations after beating Christie in Lausanne, could only finish fifth in 10.10. He said he had got off to a poor start which had given Bailey too great an advantage. Not since 1976 have the United States failed to get a sprint medal in a major championship. It has never happened before in the world championships.

Christie's and Bailey's fortunes have turned full circle since the last world championships. In Stuttgart, Bailey was selected for the Canadian sprint squad but did not get a run. "It was my first big show, and I was very disappointed," he said. It was while he was on a down in Stuttgart that he encountered his current coach, Dan Pfaff, who told him he could become a world champion.

Asked if he thought Christie's injury had affected the result, he said: "I didn't know that Linford was injured. I don't think about who's hurt. My job is to go out there and run my race."

Bailey bridled at questions concerning Ben Johnson, the Canadian banned for life for drug abuse and stripped of the Olympic 100m title. "That is past news," Bailey said.

"Bruny and myself were not around when Ben was running. We don't want any more questions about Ben Johnson. We are both great people and we are running clean."

Boldon, who had produced the fastest time, 10.03sec, before yesterday, said he had lost his concentration after 70 metres, when Bailey had yelled out. "I don't know what he yelled, he wasn't yelling at me, but I should not have let it affect me in the way it did. My coach will not be pleased with me."

Curtis Robb's hope of improving upon his fourth place in the 800 metres at the last world championships disappeared in the space of 80 metres as a semi-final field which he had led for most of the race swept past him.

Robb, who finished last in 1min 50.12sec, was a disconsolate figure. "I am very disappointed," he said. "Maybe I should have pushed it even faster from the start. I should have gone eyeballs out like Peter Elliott."

His disappointment was compounded by the fact that he has been running personal bests in training recently after recovering from a debilitating sequence of injury and illness. "Maybe this points to me moving up to 1,500 metres next year," he said.

As the last of Britain's three 1993 world champions lost their grip on their title, national expectations shifted to the triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who will attempt today to add the world title to the world record which he gained this season.

Kelly Holmes, of whom much is also expected, qualified serenely for today's 1,500 metres semi-finals in 4min 11.87sec, the second fastest time of the day behind Hassiba Boulmerka's 4:11.34.

Roger Black and Mark Richardson also reached today's 400m semi-finals, Black running 45.01sec to finish third behind Butch Reynolds, of the United States, and Richardson finishing second to Samson Kitur, of Kenya, in 45.30. Michael Johnson, the defending champion, won his heat in 45.15 despite appearing to slow to an easy run over the final 100 metres. It still seems a question not so much of whether he will win, but by how much.

Gail Devers, of the United States, retained her 100 metres hurdles title in 12.68sec as Olga Shishigina, of Kazakhstan, ran below the level of form she has displayed for most of this season. Devers looked no more than pleased. By contrast, Andrey Abduvaliyev, the Tajakhstan hammer thrower, gave a convincing impression of a dancing bear after winning gold with a last throw of 81.56m.

Earlier in the day, Liz McColgan, Yvonne Murray and Jill Hunter all qualified for the 10,000m final. Steve Smith, despite competing in pain because of a callus on the heel of his take-off foot, reached the high jump final by clearing 2.29m.

Fiona May, formerly of Derby but now an adopted Italian, won the long jump in 6.98 metres. So Britain did have one winner of sorts at the end of a sad day.

Results, page 20

100M: HOW THEY FINISHED

1 D Bailey (Can) 9.97sec 2 B Surin (Can) 10.03 3 A Boldon (Trin) 10.03 4 F Fredericks (Nam) 10.07 5 M Marsh (US) 10.10 6 L Christie (GB) 10.12 7 O Adeniken (Nigeria) 10.20 8 R Stewart (Jam) 10.29

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