Christie runs as Gunnell returns

Mike Rowbottom on the plans of a leading athlete to retain Olympic gold
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The Independent Online
Sally Gunnell makes her long-awaited return to competitive action today in the AAA Indoor Championships, which received an unexpected bonus last night with the news that Linford Christie had been accepted as a late entry.

The event, at Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, thus finds itself with both Britain's Olympic champions, although they are approaching the competition with differing objectives.

Gunnell is hoping to gauge her fitness following a season out with a heel injury which required an operation last year. Christie is seeking to maintain the impressive form which he has demonstrated in the last fortnight with two victories in Australia, where he has been doing warm- weather training.

Gunnell, whose last competitive outing was in September 1994, has recently returned from South Africa. She said she was determined to retain her Olympic 400 metres hurdles title this summer.

"If I did not think I was capable of the gold medal I would not go to Atlanta," Gunnell said. "Simply reaching the final or being satisfied with any medal is not enough. I've had that feeling of what it's like to cross the line first and it's the only one. Barcelona was the highlight of my career."

This weekend, Gunnell will be happy to negotiate two qualifying races and a final of the 400m flat in which she is likely to come up against the European Cup winner, Melanie Neef.

Gunnell said: "I'll be very nervous and I hope people will not expect too much from me. I'm not sure how the foot will react to running on the boards. If I get round in one piece and have that competitive feeling back I will be happy.

"What is important is that this is a positive move forward for me. It's lovely to be training and competing again."

Christie made the decision to bring forward his domestic debut after getting back from Australia on Tuesday. He had previously planned to have his first run-out in this country at the Ricoh International on the same track a week from today.

"Linford has been thinking about competing since getting back from Australia," said Sue Barrett, Christie's agent. "He always likes to support the AAA and this will give him the chance to see how his training is going."

Tony Ward, the BAF spokesman, said Christie had originally been due to run in Germany today. "He had been hoping to go to Stuttgart but he couldn't get in there so we have agreed to let him run here."

Ward confirmed that Christie was one of at least three or four athletes who had been given entry to the championships beyond the official deadline.

Christie's decision to run the 60m will provide an earlier-than-planned riposte to Jason Gardener, the 20-year-old who won in last week's international against Russia in the excellent time of 6.55sec, a run which prompted the comment from Gardener's coach, Dave Lease: "That will rattle a few cages - even in Australia."

Christie will also have been fired up by this week's comments by the world 100m champion, Donovan Bailey, who accused Christie of faking injury in the World Championship final.