Christie wins in the end

Olympic trials: Supreme sprinter benefits from faulty start as wrongly banned 800m runner castigates the federation
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The Independent Online
Linford Christie confirmed his right to defend his Olympic 100 metres title in Atlanta next month by winning yesterday's AAA championship and Olympic trial race in Birmingham, but whether he takes up the offer remains to be seen. His decision will be announced on 1 July.

By the style in which he won yesterday's race - his ninth AAA title - in 10.04 seconds, he can still perform superbly well when it matters. Darren Braithwaite and Ian Mackie set out looking as if they were going to stay close to his heels, but that was all they saw. Thoughts that Christie would immediately announce his Olympic decision on television were soon dismissed as he walked straight off the track after the race. Later, though, he said: "I'll go if I feel like it - if I don't, I won't."

The British Athletic Federation wanted to know his plans before they announced their Olympic team tomorrow morning. But the British Olympic Association say names do not have to be submitted to them until 1 July.

Yesterday again saw Christie involved in controversy. In the semi-finals he and three other sprinters appeared to believe they were victims of a false start, but the other four did what all runners are supposed to do and pressed on, because there had been no recall gun. Indeed, Darren Campbell won the "race" looking across in disbelief that there was no sign of Christie, who had stopped and was wandering back to the start.

After a long delay it was announced that because of "faulty" start, rather than a false start, the semi-final would be re-run. Christie won it comfortably in 10.20 seconds, but it all smacked of the year before when he was knocked out in the first round of the AAA championships, but was allowed to run in a ninth lane in the final "because of public demand."

Yesterday one of the athletes who slowed down immediately after the start approached the chief starter, David Aizlewood, to protest that if half the field thought something was wrong, he ought to reconsider, which he did.

Christie now wants to see exactly how much the foreign opposition threatens him, and he knows that the British federation is not going to hammer the desk. They realise that without him they not only have to face an Olympics with only one real hope for gold, Jonathan Edwards, who is himself uneasy with the pressure, but with a long-term future that looks bleak, because there a lot of worthy young athletes around, but very few to sustain the sport at top level.

Six runners, all with the Olympic qualifying standard of 45.84 seconds already achieved, line up for today's men's 400 metres. The fastest in yesterday's semi-finals was the 30-year-old Roger Black in 45.02 seconds. Yet the winner of today's contest is by no means assured of a medal in this summer's Olympic final.

Michael Johnson, the upright American who dominates the 400 metres, says that Britain's much emphasised depth of talent in this event is total baloney. Johnson's best time is 43.39 seconds. Britain's record, held by David Grindley (who is at present injured) is 44.47 seconds. Black was up against Du'aine Ladejo, Mark Richardson and Mark Hylton in a tough semi- final, but was easing up confidently as he crossed the line, looking across the track at Ladejo, who is danger of missing an Olympic place because Jamie Baulch, running in the other semi-final, recorded a promising 45.22 seconds.

The Olympic games are coming all too quickly for Sally Gunnell. She was far superior to the other Brits in yesterday's 400 metres hurdles heats and would need to fall over to avoid winning today's final, but that is not the point. Three recent defeats by foreign opponents who four years ago she would have left floundering have emphasised how much progress she has to make to defend her title.

Curiously, Gunnell's problems were emphasised yesterday at the very moment she seemed to be making significant headway in technical terms. For 250 metres she looked every bit a champion, but on the final bend she seemed to question her rhythm. Even so, her time of 55.64 seconds was the fastest of her season.

Colin Jackson provided one of the brightest moments of the day when he ended a run of four successive 110 metres hurdles defeats by winning his race in 13.13 seconds, carefully camouflaging the tendonitis problem which will be attended to by the German football team doctor today.