Christie hints at end to his international career

Mike Rowbottom studies the signals emanating from the British sprinter
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The Independent Online
Linford Christie, whose attempt to retain his world 100 metres title on Sunday was so dramatically undermined by a hamstring injury, appeared yesterday to signal the end of his international career.

Asked on BBC television if that was the last that would be seen of him on the world stage, he replied: "To be honest, yes, I do believe that. I have so many good memories which I want to keep. I want to go back to athletics for fun. I want to run for Thames Valley Harriers and run in the Southern Counties. Things like that."

Christie, who announced earlier this year that this season would be his last, spoke quietly and without his normal verve. He is clearly down, and still angry at what he sees as his negative coverage by the British media.

"They take all the fun out of athletics," he said. Referring to the recent stories about him becoming a grandfather at the age of 35, he said: "What you did in your mid-20s shouldn't be important."

Asked whether he would be able to take any further part in these championships, perhaps in the sprint relay final on the last day, he said: "That would be nice. But I think this time I am going to go back home. I've got to come back and prove that the Linford Christie people saw in the final was not the real one. I have got to prove that to myself."

Presumably that must mean him competing in a major grand prix later this season. But it is clearly a confusing time, not just for Christie, but everyone else involved. Earlier in the day, Michael Hill, the international sports manager of Christie's shoe sponsors, Puma, said: "Linford has told me 'I will be back and I will show them I am still the best.' "

But he added that it was "fairly certain" Christie would take no further part in these championships, and that he would fly out today for further treatment at a "secret destination". That was generally believed to be Munich, where he would consult with the doctor he saw before the championships, Hans Muller-Wolfhart.

Sources close to Christie suggested that he would miss not only these championships, but the sprinting set piece at the Zurich Grand Prix on Wednesday week.

However, the British spokes-man, Tony Ward, maintained that, although Christie was effectively out of the 200m which start on Thursday, there was an outside chance he would play a part in the sprint relay, the final of which is next Sunday.

"His injury is serious, but not severe," he said. "He had an ultrasound scan at the Ostra Hospital in Gothenburg today and we will continue to assess the situation."

Ward said that the British management would not object in principle if Christie left Gothenburg for further treatment, but added: "My understanding is that he's not flying to Munich."

He confirmed that Darren Braithwaite, the nominated reserve for the 200m, had declined to fill the third place, and that Jason Gardener had been called out to strengthen the relay squad.

The larger question of whether Christie's championship career is over remained unanswered. But Hill hinted that the man who has already won 10 gold medals might yet seek a final one in next year's Olympics. Christie has a four-year contract with Puma, believed to be worth around pounds 500,000 a year, which has three years left to run. "We want to see him in Atlanta," Hill said.

It is still hard to believe that Christie is going to end his championship career on Sunday's traumatic note. He will have gained considerable sympathy for putting himself on the line in the final when he knew he was likely to come to a sudden, painful halt.

In a way, it will have been more acceptable for him to lose the title this way rather than to be comprehensively beaten by a clearly superior opponent. Earlier this season, Christie said that if he found himself in that situation, even if it was half-way through the season, he would retire there and then.

His pride, which has generated the competitive spirit he has displayed over the past decade, really would not allow him to humiliate himself. But it is obvious that Christie did not consider any of his opponents to be in a clearly superior category. Until his hamstring twinged in the semi-final, he appeared on course for another gold.

"Linford was convinced he would have won the race," Hill confirmed. "He had the best start, but when he came to his best phase in the middle of the race he could not lift his knees high enough to increase his speed."

If Christie can get himself clear of injury, he has the fitness and belief to win again at the highest level. But at 35, even he has to accept that it is getting increasingly hard to guarantee. And the comments from his friend Colin Jackson speculating that Christie might have a cartilage problem in his knee only compounded the doubts about his ability to carry on.