-LINFORD CHRISTIE came to work here yesterday, clocked in two everyday times to qualify for today's world championship 100 metres semi- finals and must have slept soundly in the knowledge that a combination of potential rivals dropping out and his own ability to produce exceptional performances on the appropriate day must again make him favourite for gold.
Although he made a slight mistake in the first round, he totally ignored two false starts by other runners in the second and after 50 metres pulled away from a field of no great quality. Finishing in 10.15 seconds, he slowed going over the line sufficiently to walk casually straight into the tunnel saying only that he had a "very good chance in the final''. He emphasised the word "very". His hamstring problem no longer worries him and he seems happy to be worrying everyone else.
If he should make a hash of his semi-final, as he did at the national championships in Birmingham, there will be no sympathy vote here. The rest of the contenders would gladly not have to face that fixed stare and have him bossing it on the start line. He makes everyone wait for him: aircraft captains to plain Mr Starter. He may never have been the fastest sprinter in the world, but he is always the most feared.
The Americans cannot take it. The rest of the Europeans usually buckle and the grandfather of the blue riband event just goes on cutting the tape first when it matters. But will he today?
First of the threats is Donovan Bailey who, in spite of a lazy start, recently whopped most of the top men at a Monaco meeting. Like Christie, he was born in the West Indies. He moved to Canada and suffered the embarrassment of being a rookie sprinter when Ben Johnson was heaping disrepute on the sport. His best time this season is 9.91 seconds, which also means he is currently the fastest. Christie last did a 9.91 himself in the Commonwealth Games last summer but he has not ducked beneath 10 seconds since then. Evidence against Bailey includes another dreadful start in Oslo last month when he failed to reach the final. Yesterday he looked neat and comfortable as he moved into the semi-final with a second- round win in 10.18 seconds after an earlier 10.13.
Dennis Mitchell, third at the last world championships in Stuttgart, would have been a tough competitor, but yesterday he pulled up midway through his heat with a damaged hamstring. Not that Christie's first appearance went entirely smoothly. As the gun went in his morning heat he was almost falling and as a result stumbled slightly as he took his second step. He recovered for a presentable time of 10.26 seconds and, in any case, several other potential finalists have dropped out, including the Nigerian Davidson Ezinwa.
The Olympic 200m champion, Mike Marsh, reiterated his 100m potential by beating a high quality field, including Christie, in Lausanne last month. He remains a threat and in a tough second-round heat he held off Namibia's Frankie Fredericks to win in 10.03 seconds.
A generous side to Christie emerged yesterday as young British 400m runner Adrian Patrick revealed that the sprinter, who earlier this summer was accused of greed when in dispute with the British Athletic Federation, had heavily subsidised his winter training abroad.
Patrick qualified for today's world championship 400m semi-finals after running in the heat won by the American favourite Michael Johnson. Afterwards he explained that he had been able to accompany Christie for training in Australia, the US and Monte Carlo, all at the sprinter's expense.
Last year Christie had come to him, put his arm round him, and said: "I'll show you the way." He hardly realised at the time that Christie's offer would amount to about pounds 5,000 in air fares alone.
Roger Black was put under little pressure in his 400m heat. He admitted: "I took the first 200 metres more steadily than is my usual style.'' His only problem is how to stop the Americans finishing with all the medals.
Johnson toyed with the field in his heat, virtually walking across the line, and the world record holder, Butch Reynolds, did much the same. Another American qualifier, Darnell Hall, said he expected the three Americans to go under 44 seconds in the final with Reynolds - a "man with a mission" - to beat Johnson. However, Hall added: "He's going to have to break the world record to beat me.''
Johnson, already attempting to win three gold medals, in the 200m, 400m and 4 x 400m relay, may get the chance to add a fourth. Last night he offered to run in the 4 x 100m relay as a replacement for the injured Mitchell. "If they asked me, I would run," Johnson said.
One of Britain's most impressive performances yesterday was by Melanie Neef in a 400m heat. Finishing second, but in a satisfying time of 51.39 seconds, she said: "I felt really good. I cruised along then pulled back the three in front." Curtis Robb's successful comeback from injury was re-emphasised yesterday when he ran a technically sound 800m. He led confidently on the final bend to finish second. His time of one minute 46.34 seconds was his best of the season.
Portugal's Manuela Machado, the reigning European champion, took the first gold medal of the championships when she overcame sweltering heat to win the women's marathon in 2hr 25min 39sec.
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