Fox's 20th Century: 1990-95: Linford Christie

Click to follow
The Independent Online
BRITAIN'S MOST successful athlete of all time has twice failed drugs tests. So perhaps it would be prudent to omit him from this series on the great and good of the century. It would also be unreasonable. At the height of this Olympic champion's career there was no evidence that he was one of the many athletes whose cheating led to the sport being diminished.

His record over 100 metres, 200m and sprint relays was extraordinary. He won 23 medals at international championships including 10 golds, yet he did not reach his peak until after the age of 30 when, in 1992, he won his Olympic gold in Barcelona. Although he officially retired in 1997, his competitive nature, and possibly his vanity, has kept him involved at a lower level as well as coaching.

He came to Britain from St Andrews, Jamaica, when he was seven, and the seven members of the family lived in two rooms in Shepherds Bush. His athletics talent was spotted by Ron Roddan, who remained his coach throughout his career. When Christie was in his mid-20s Roddan and the promoter Andy Norman had to warn him that he was in danger of wasting his talent and their time by not working hard enough.

He shared his successes with Roddan and Britain in equal proportions. He was immensely patriotic. When he became European 100m champion in 1986 he wrapped himself in a Union Jack. His breakthrough came earlier that year in the European indoor championships where he won the 200m. He went on to win three European 100m titles outdoors.

His peak was 1992-93 when, after threatening to retire, he became Olympic and world champion. His previous Olympic appearance in Seoul needed to be swept from his mind. His drugs test there had been positive but the IOC accepted that the substance in his sample was not a performance enhancing steroid. Barcelona brought him victory in 9.96sec - not bad for a 32-year-old - but he said that beating Carl Lewis (who had missed the Olympics) in the following summer's World Championships gave him more pleasure. His defence of the Olympic 100m title in Atlanta ended after reaching the final in which he made two false starts.

Christie's career-long suspicion of the press was often justified, but his attitude to criticism could be ruthless. Rows in public were not unusual. He was accused of taking more money from the sport than it could afford, but he poured plenty back in support of young athletes.