Frankie pulls a fast one

Norman Fox assesses the mood of friendly rivals who are foes on the track
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The Independent Online
Some may find it surprising that Olympic rivals train together. But the case of Linford Christie and Frankie Fredericks borders on the bizarre. Christie, the Olympic 100 metres champion, shares confidences with Fredericks and even encourages him. This bond between two of the world's great sprinters, runs against all the modern trends towards aggressive rivalries that have led to fights among runners.

Even here at the British training camp Christie and the 27-year-old Namibian, Fredericks, have been making their last-minute preparations for the Games in each other's company. Fredericks has not quite made up his mind whether to run the 100m as well as the 200m but in one or other, or both, he will probably face Christie, the man who confides in him more than anyone apart from Christie's coach, Ron Roddan.

"Face" is not a literal interpretation of what most sprinters do in major competitions these days. Eye contact is the very thing they avoid as they line up for a final. Indeed, Christie is notorious for his glazed concentration and use of every known psychological ploy to put off his opponents. And even in the comparatively relaxed atmosphere of hotel foyers, top sprinters have been known to come to blows.

Fredericks knows all about Christie's technique. He says that the "old man" is past his best but there is a look in Fredericks' eye that speaks of a suspicion that his 36-year-old friend could have just one more blessed performance before retiring to the life of a Saturday afternoon part-timer with Thames Valley Harriers.

Christie likes Fredericks because he is a private person who has got to the top of his athletics profession without ever being asked much about himself or revealing anything about anyone else - least of all Christie himself. When cornered, he says that their reason for training together is that "he teaches you what hard work is all about".

They spent time together last winter training in Australia. Fredericks said: "I got a lot of confidence from working with him. I felt stronger and quicker." His form this season is such that even Michael Johnson may have to improve his own world 200m record set in the American Olympic trials to keep him subdued.

Last month Fredericks beat Johnson over 200m in Oslo after he had earlier reduced his 100m personal best to 9.86 seconds. Interestingly, he had also been the last man to beat Johnson two years and 21 races before. Fredericks still denies he got a "flyer". He said: "I got my best ever start. It was fair. I knew it was going to be my race. Now I believe I can do it again against anyone in the world." His confidence in 1996 has been higher than ever before, partly as a result of an indoor season that saw him virtually invincible.

He has always been more technically proficient than Christie over 200m and has offered him good advice in an attempt to reduce the big man's problem of balance on the bend. Balance is natural to Fredericks who was a good enough footballer to win an international cap for Namibia before he was sent by his mining company employers to study here in the States. He was the first non-American to win the inter-collegiate 100m and 200m and went on to take Olympic silver medals over both distances in Barcelona.

His ability to avoid personal publicity has always made him difficult to assess but he said: "Ever since I got involved in athletics, I wanted to do something for my country - not so much for me. What I win is also helping my family at home." He had a tough upbringing in South Africa but remembers fondly that his own first track successes happened to coincide with the year of Namibia's independence in 1990. He is recognised in his own country as the first world-class sportsman it has produced, although without his time spent in the States and later under the influence of Christie, he acknowledges that he could never have reached such status.

The reason he is not going to decide whether to start in Friday's 100m heats is that "running in two events at the Olympics is very hard because you don't get any slow races". He also knows that the 200m is for him a safer distance - less likely to cause injury. To run the 100m first is obviously a risk but having suddenly logged two of the fastest three 100m of all time, the temptation is enormous. On this occasion, Christie would be glad not to have his company.