Christie seals final farce

National championships: Bizarre day as the Olympic 100m champion fails in his heat but then gains an unlikely reprieve
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The Independent Online
FRUSTRATED spectators at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham were not appeased after Linford Christie was yesterday controversially allowed to run in the KP National Championships 100 metres final after failing to qualify. The decision, meant to please them, became a distraction to what should have been an engrossing world championships trials.

Although Kelly Holmes and Curtis Robb impressively moved into today's 800 metres finals as fastest qualifiers and Steve Smith cleared 2.35 metres, the third-best height in the world this year, the whole day was dominated by the Christie fiasco.

The manner in which Christie drifted into fourth place in his heat suggested, perhaps wrongly, a lack of interest rather than injury. But Christie has not been fully fit all season, resulting in several defeats, though none so ignominious as this.

Officially the organisers gave him lane nine, the spare, in the final and made it clear that he could not be called "champion" even if he won - after all, he had not run the semi-finals. In any case, he ended up running in lane eight, because Michael Rosswess dropped out injured. The question of the injury from which he seemed to have recovered so quickly did not appear to be addressed.

Christie blasted away in the final to hold off Darren Braithwaite in 10.18 seconds and they took a joint lap of honour. In the championships' 115 years there had never been such a farce, and it seemed to emphasise who really runs British athletics.

Christie should have gone from the stadium by 1pm, long before most of the crowd had arrived to see the world and Olympic champion run in the semi-finals and final. They had assumed that he would cruise through.

In the event, Christie started his heat indifferently and 20 metres from the tape was slipping two metres and more behind Darren Campbell, of Sale. Then Carl Afilaka and the Australian Ryan Witnish noticed that Christie had clearly slowed down and in the end he appeared to accept defeat by all three.

Afterwards, Tony Ward, the British Athletic Federation spokesman, said: "Linford Christie suffered a tight tendon behind the right knee and felt it go as he drove from the blocks. He tried to cruise, but unfortunately that was not enough."

That begged the question why, if Christie felt the injury so early in the race, he continued, with so much at stake this summer. Although he had easily qualified on times for the world championships, it seemed curious that he should risk worsening an injury by running the full 100 metres rather than pulling up - and, even worse, then volunteering to race again. A spokesperson for Nuff Respect, which represents him, said he had been receiving treatment for the injury throughout the week.

According to Peter Radford, chief executive of the BAF, the decision to allow Christie to run in the final was taken by the track referee and the meeting manager in order not to disappoint the crowd. Perhaps he ought also to have mentioned the fact that the championships were being televised live, and with the sport badly needing to recover from the recent non- appearances of Christie, Colin Jackson and John Regis in important domestic televised meetings, it could ill-afford another day without its biggest star.

Radford said: "Linford has had the problem for a few days. He believed he was doing enough in the heat to qualify for the final, but he miscalculated. It was clearly disappointing for the crowd so a special arrangement was made to let him compete as a gesture to the crowd. There are some injuries you need to run off to get better. Linford asked to run. An exception was made, because of the status of the competitor."

Christie's heat time of 10.93 seconds was the slowest that he had run in serious competition for more than a decade. And if that was not enough to destroy the crowd's enthusiasm, Jackson, another of Britain's possible gold medal winners in the forthcoming world championships, pulled out of the 100 metres semi-finals with a pulled tendon after he had qualified as one of the fastest losers.

Jackson, like Christie, had already qualified for Gothenburg and decided not to run his speciality, the hurdles, but appear in the flat sprint. Flat was the appropriate word, since before official intervention they seemed between them to have deflated the whole meeting.

Many other leading athletes had either sent in or arrived with the medical certificates guaranteeing that provided they achieved the world championship qualifying times over the next three weeks, they would be chosen with this weekend's winners. Sally Gunnell still looks unlikely to be fit in time for Sweden, Jonathan Edwards, the amazingly successful triple jumper who was to have run the 100 metres, pulled out with a slight injury, as did Roger Black, Steve Backley and, at the last minute, the high jumper Dalton Grant.