Christie's European ambition has mixed reception

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Linford Christie's reluctance to go, gently or otherwise, into that good night was welcomed with "mixed feelings" yesterday by the man in charge of Britain's track and field team.

Malcolm Arnold, the British Athletic Federation's director of coaching, revealed that he had known since the Olympic Games of Christie's desire to extend his international shelf-life beyond what was billed as the captain's last hurrah for Britain, the Bupa Challenge match at Gateshead on Monday night.

"Linford told me in Atlanta that he would like to run in the European Cup next June," Arnold said. That prior knowledge of what Christie made public after finishing runner-up to John Regis in the 200 metres on Monday did not prevent the British athletics publicity machine churning out pre- meeting hype about the veteran's international farewell, which undoubtedly helped to sell all but 400 of 11,700 tickets.

"That is the responsibility of the federation's commercial and public relations department," Arnold maintained. The morning after the night before, Britain's head coach was more concerned about the future: one that, for him, next year will pose the dilemma of whether to remain loyal to a 37-year-old icon or invest faith in the new generation of British sprinters.

"Linford will take his place in the queue with our other sprinters," Arnold said. "If he's good enough to get us eight points I'll take him to Munich." The Bavarian capital is the venue for the 1997 European Cup and Christie, should he make it to the start line in the Olympic Stadium, would be chasing his eighth consecutive 100m victory in the competition.

Not since 1985, when Lincoln Asquith finished fourth in Moscow, has Britain picked a different sprinter for that particular job. Though Christie's reputation stopped him short of actually saying it, Arnold would not be disappointed to see a fresh face, such as that of Ian Mackie.

The 21-year-old from Dunfermline was inspired to take up the sport, under the guidance of John Macdonald, father of Linsey Macdonald, Britain's youngest-ever track and field Olympic medallist, when Christie signed an autograph for him after a meeting in Edinburgh six years ago. Since returning from Atlanta, where he qualified for the 100m semi-finals, Mackie has been invited to join Christie's management company, Nuff Respect. He matched strides with the Olympic champion, Donovan Bailey, until the final 20 metres of the 100m at Gateshead, missing his personal best by 0.01sec with a time of 10.25.

"I have got mixed feelings," Arnold conceded. "When Linford does go we'll miss him. I think people in this country don't realise what he's done. But I'd like him to go out in a dignified fashion and we've seen the best from him.

"You can't buck the ageing process. That's what has happened with Linford's hamstring problems this year. The older you get, the quicker you get injured and the slower you are to recover. It's also difficult for him to leave the regime he's had. It's the same with Ron Roddan, his coach. They'll have to carry him out of Thames Valley Harriers in a coffin. Linford's the same.

"He loves the sport and he's finding it hard to let go. There has to be time, though, for the youngsters to be set free." That time, it seems, is not yet nigh.