Athletics: Malcolm's strides guided by Christie

New lease of life for the sprinter who is a contender again
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When he was in sickness, Christian Malcolm was still a sprint force to be reckoned with on the international track-and-field stage. Back in 2004, just a fortnight after spending five days in a Cypriot hospital suffering from kidney failure, he was quick enough to reach the 200m semi-finals at the Athens Olympics. Now that he happens to be in the rudest of health, the will-o'-the-wisp Welshman is ready to make up for lost time, and for the gaps in his international medal collection.

"What happened to me in 2004 was a turning point," Malcolm reflected, resting against a barrier in the half-built Estadio de Ciudad de Malaga, his high-speed effort around half the circumference of the Andalucian track having effectively secured Super League status for the Great Britain men's team on the concluding day of the European Cup. "I'd finished fifth in the 200m in the Olympics in 2000 and I was expected to be one of the contenders in 2004. I expected it myself. My intention was to be among the medals, but it wasn't to be.

"I still made the semi-final and ran 20.56sec, and I said to myself, 'If I can run like that, when I've just come out of hospital with kidney failure, then surely with work behind me, and gearing myself with the right plan, I can do some damage'. And I feel I can do that now.

"Last year was a stepping-stone for me to get back. I ran 20.15 at the European Cup in Florence and surprised myself, but I didn't have the background because of the illness in 2004. This year I've got the background and the strength. I just need to sharpen everything up. I'm confident I'll be better this year."

Malcolm's new-found strength was apparent in the home straight of the 200m on Thursday night. Coming off the bend half a stride down on Ronald Pognon, he drew level with the Frenchman, then maintained his speed and form as his rival tired. At the line, the Newport man was a clear winner, in 20.29. Pognon - too quick for Dwain Chambers in the 100m the previous night - clocked 20.37.

It was a hugely impressive performance, the only winning one by a male British athlete over two days of competition in Malaga. It hinted towards a strengthening of the mind as well as of the body in the Welsh flier with the featherweight build and the smooth sprinting style - twin attributes Malcolm claims to have acquired from his new coach.

Few speed merchants have been stronger of mind or body than the sprint guru who has been guiding Malcolm's career since February. Even fewer have amassed the mountain of medals that Linford Christie stockpiled during his life in the fast lane. In the European Cup alone, Christie won the 100m eight times and the 200m on five occasions.

"Linford has made a lot of difference, especially mentally," Malcolm (who now has four European Cup wins at the longer distance) said. "He's a great mentor and a great motivator. He gets you in the right frame of mind. When you work with someone who's actually been there and done it, someone you look up to, and when they tell you you're doing similar things to what they did, that you're doing them better than they did... It's those little things that inspire you. It's a new lease of life for me. And it seems to be working.

"I go up to London to train for three or four days a week. I stay at St Mary's College in Twickenham and Linford comes to collect me. He comes down to South Wales once a week. Track-wise, the workload that I do with him isn't that much different to what I did with Jock Anderson [Malcolm's former, long-term coach], but in the gym it's a lot different. It's a lot more specific to what I need. I do a lot more strength work. Like I said, Linford has been a great influence and Jock still has an input too. It's working well."

Just how well it happens to be working will become a little clearer on Thursday night. After wins in Geneva and Malaga, Malcolm faces his toughest 200m test of the season at the Spitzen meeting in Lucerne. The start list for the race includes Wallace Spearmon, the winner of the 200m at the US Cham- pionships in Indianapolis last weekend in a scorching 19.90.

Malcolm's personal best dates back to 2001, when he clocked 20.08 in the semi-finals of the World Championships in Edmonton. Winner of the 100m and 200m double at the World Junior Championships in 1998, his progress has stalled since he lined up as a medal favourite for the final in Edmonton and finished a disappointing fifth. Still, at 27, he still has time to realise his full potential - as his mentor has not been slow to stress.

"It's been a big frustration that things haven't moved forward," Malcolm (at one time a flying right-winger in Nottingham Forest's youth team) confided. " But Linford keeps telling me he didn't come through until he was 26. That's a big motivation for me."

The biggest motivation for both athlete and coach this summer is the 200m crown at the European Championships in Gothenburg. With the reigning champion, the Greek Konstan-tinos Kenteris, serving a doping suspension, Malcolm sees Francis Obikwelu of Portugal as the man to beat in Sweden next month. For the time being at least, though, it is Britain's saviour in Malaga who leads the Continental rankings.