Christie on the long stretch

Athletics: The world and Olympic 100m champion is entering his 35th year with renewed vigour, finds Mike Rowbottom
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The Independent Online
It may come as a surprise to know that the man who won the European and Commonwealth 100 metres titles last season, the man who left the best American sprinters in his wake at the Zurich Grand prix, was not Linford Christie. Not really.

So crowded was the 1994 fixture list that the world and Olympic champion virtually found himself on autopilot. "I was running," he said. "But my mind was having a rest. Mentally it wasn't me."

Following what Britain's national coach, Malcolm Arnold, has described as "a pig of a year", 1995 - the Year of the Pig - looks a lot simpler. All roads lead to the Gothenburg World Championships. And retaining his 100m title there is the thing Christie, who starts his domestic season in Glasgow today, says he is looking forward to most.

"This year I have got to be more mentally prepared than last year," he said. "And I am going to be. Everything else will take second place. I will be thinking a lot more about myself for a change."

Presumably in that spirit, he downplayed the idea that he would be falling into line with the British Athletic Federation's ambitious plans to provide athletes with medical and logistical support in return for a commitment to race certain events. "I don't think I will be signing any contract," said Christie, who has begun his year with 60m victories in low-key events in Adelaide, Perth and, last Sunday, Tokyo.

At the age of 34 - he will be 35 in two months' time - Britain's team captain knows exactly what he has to do to get the most out of the final years of his career. As does the man who has coached him for nearly 10 years, Ron Roddan.

Christie has parted company with Andy Norman, who was dismissed as the federation's promotions officer last April, and his racing programme is now negotiated by Sue Barrett, who works within the promotional company Nuff Respect which Christie has set up with his friend and training partner, Colin Jackson.

When asked about the possibility of defending his Olympic title in Atlanta in 1996, Christie's response is along the lines of a football manager's mantra about taking each game as it comes.

"Ron and myself have always worked on one-year programmes. We want to get this year out of the way first before we even think about Atlanta."

But Roddan accepts that a third Olympics for Christie looks "a distinct possibility". He does not rule out the possibility either that his man might better the time of 9.87sec he set in winning the 1993 world title. Given small mid-race improvements, and a 10 per cent improvement during the final stages, Roddan believes Christie is capable of taking the world record down to 9.80sec.

This winter in Australia, Christie has missed Jackson, whose presence and swift start have in recent years helped improve the weakest part of his race - the first 30 metres. But there have been occasions at the Narrabeen training centre in Sydney when another athlete has helped to keep Christie up to the mark - the world 200m champion, Frankie Fredericks.

It is not the first time the Namibian has been of assistance to Christie's career. Two years ago watching a tape of Fredericks on the blocks helped Christie clarify in his own mind how he needed to position himself at the start. "I suddenly saw it," Christie recalled. "I said `Hey! That's the position I need!' I tried it out and I was running a lot quicker."

Christie's enthusiasm, his willingness to search for even fractional improvements, appear intact. In the absence of his chirpy mate, he has derived much from his use of equipment to measure his times over various distances and to gauge his reaction out of the blocks.

"When you get to my stage it is very hard to find someone of similar calibre to train with," he said. "So when I am on my own I compare my times over 60, 50 and 30 metres. I have got to improve, and it is the only way you can measure improvement.

"Training is training. But every year I like to think I train a little bit harder, do a bit better. My performances are up on last year. I know that because I have a record of all my sprint times and weights I have lifted since 1986."

Other motivation for Christie has been forthcoming from the United States. Track and Field News, the influential American magazine, placed him only second over 100m in their 1994 world rankings, behind the US sprinter Dennis Mitchell, who beat Christie in the end-of-season IAAF Grand Prix final.

Instead of following their usual practice of choosing the winner of the Brussels and Zurich grands prix - Christie in both cases last year - they went for the Grand Prix champion. "Track and Field News call themselves the Bible of the sport," Christie said. "I don't think I follow their religion." If his plans work out in the next few months he does not intend for there to be any debate over the 1995 rankings.