Inspired Christie rises to the occasion

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The Independent Online
Linford Christie rounded off a weekend that stands as a personal triumph with his fastest 200 metres in seven years here yesterday to help Britain's men to second place in the European Cup.

His victory, in 20.11sec, was one of three on the day for the men - Jonathan Edwards in the triple jump, and the 400m relay team also provided maximum points. The men were runners-up for the fourth time in succession, this time behind Germany.

Britain's women, for whom Kelly Holmes won overpoweringly at 1500m, finished third behind Russia and Germany, watched from the stands by their injured captain, Sally Gunnell

Christie's uninhibited bend running came the day after he had anchored the sprint relay team to victory and won the 100m in 10.05sec, the second fastest time in the world this year.

It was a hugely inspirational performance, all the more so given the fact that he was croaking with a sore throat and had arrived early on Saturday morning after the emotional turmoil of attending his mother's funeral on Friday. Although Christie left his decision on whether to come out until late on Friday night, he said yesterday that he had planned to come out here even if he had been unable to compete. "It had to be better than sitting at home thinking about things," he said.

Instead, he was able to express himself in a way that created one of several genuine surges of excitement within the Stadium Nord. "This is all about the team," he said. "We have a very young team and when I got here some of the boys and girls were so pleased to see me. It makes you feel a big sense of responsibility. If I hadn't come out here, or if I had come and been down, other people would be thinking 'what's happened?'

"After what I've been through, seeing my mother pass away, I can't be in any greater pain. What else can bother me? I have realised that life is a wonderful thing."

His reaction after getting into the dressing-room in the stands of the stadium was to whoop with delight at his performance. "I didn't think I would run so fast," he said. "I haven't run that fast legally since the 1988 Olympics. It was always going to be easier for me to do a fast 100."

He remains confident that he can retain his world title, and left open a little doubt over his emotional announcement two weeks ago that this season would be his last. "Who knows? I said what I had to say at the time. Now it's just a matter of trying to run this season as if it's my last and trying to run as fast as I can."

A total of six British victories on the opening day had left both men's and women's teams in second place. Steve Smith, in the high jump, and Mark Richardson, claiming his first senior 400m title after two years of struggling with injury, contributed maximum points as well as the sprinters. Melanie Neef and Ashia Hansen won the 400m and triple jump respectively to set up a fascinating day of competition yesterday.

The men's performance was rounded off by a 400m relay win that saw Roger Black finish nearly 40 metres clear in 3min 00.34sec. Iwan Roberts, the Welsh record holder, and Adrian Patrick contributed along with Richardson to underline Britain's strength at this distance. Absent were the European champion, Du'Aine Ladejo, and the national record holder David Grindley.

Andy Tulloch, drafted into the 110m hurdles following Colin Jackson's withdrawal with tonsillitis, finished second behind Germany's Florian Schwarthoff to improve one place upon the position he achieved last year.

For the women, Holmes looked in complete control as she accelerated away from a high quality 1500m field with 200 metres to go and won in 4:07.02. A medal at the World Championships is looking like a distinct possibility for the Commonwealth champion.

Liz McColgan, representing Britain on the track for the first time since the 1992 Olympics, finished a weary fourth at 10,000 metres but had at least the satisfaction of a time inside the world championship qualifying mark of 32min 30sec.

Jackie Agyepong ran a personal best of 12.90 in a 100m hurdles that was so close that she was handed the winner's bouquet before realising she had in fact placed third. She donated the flowers, and a little kiss, to the Russian winner, Yulia Graudyn. It was a graceful touch on a day full of heartening things for British athletics.

n David Grindley, the UK 400m record holder, completed his first race after 21 months out with an Achilles tendon injury when he finished third in Lapin Lathi, Finland, yesterday in 47.68.