Kidding around with the legend of Christie

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I WAS watching Linford Christie change a nappy the other weekend - not watching intently, but taking enough notice, as one who has changed more than a few, to appreciate a job well done.

The nappy in question belonged to Christie's 18-month old daughter, Briannah, as indeed did the fresh one which had been passed to him through the window of the spectators' box at the AAA Championships, where I was interviewing him. Briannah had come along for company, and after a laudable display of sweetness and patience, eventually lapsed into banging the tip-up seats about - as you do when the grown-ups get boring - before moving to the dirty protest stage.

Not for the first time at these championships, Christie got swiftly into action: "Does this make me a New Man?" he asked with a grin.

"Take her home," I thought, "take her home and feed her and clear up the sludge on the high chair, give her a bath, get her ready for bed, look for her teddy, promise to find her teddy later, read her a story, tuck her in, tell her if she doesn't go to sleep you won't bring her her teddy, stop her crying, tell her if she does go to sleep you will bring her her teddy. Bring her her teddy. Repeat, daily." Perhaps he did just that.

Anyway, this conjunction of Christie and kids prompted an anxiety-inducing recollection to do with... well, Christie and kids, although the kids in question were mine, and the great sprinter was no more than the subject of discussion.

It was June 1995, on the day after Christie had broken down in tears on Carlton TV's Sport in Question programme and said he couldn't face defending his Olympic 100 metres title the following summer.

A few days earlier I had spoken to him at some length, and now I was attempting to bundle the whole thing together in an article when the phone rang and I was asked if I would appear on a cable television programme to discuss the subject.

It was agreed that, although I was not free to come into the studio, I would be rung at an appointed time to contribute. So, no problem. Well, slight problem, in fact, as I was in charge of two of my children, the younger of whom was having one of those "why?" and "why not?" kind of days. She had never been a terrible two. But today she was a fractious four.

A minute before the appointed time, having set the children up drawing in the kitchen with an additional, craven bait of crisps, I stole upstairs with the phone to the sanctuary of the front bedroom. And shut the door. And waited.

The familiar sound of conflict made its way out of the kitchen, up the stairs and into my suddenly thudding veins. It might have been proprietorial; or perhaps territorial. Did I have time to...? The phone detonated.

"Hello, is that Mike Rowbottom?" I was connected, and listening at one remove to bright voices, one male, one female. "You'll be on in a minute, if you'd like to hold," my caller said. "Can you hear the feed?" I could indeed hear the feed. And I could also hear the more local dispute over feed. And I could also hear my four-year-old approaching.

I had a choice. I could open the door, promise her sweets-teddy-crisps- Tango-anything, and hope that she would co-operate. Or I could simply cower in here a little longer, hoping that her search of the first floor would be incomplete by the time I had said my piece.

"You're on," my other caller said, before giving way to the second, female voice. "Now with us on the line we have Mike Rowbottom, of The Independent, who spent the weekend with Linford Christie..." Had I done that? Surely I would have remembered? "Mike, what sort of state of mind do you think Linford is in now?" "Daddy!" "Will he really quit?" "Daddy, Daddy!" Two rooms away, and holding.

"Well," I responded. "I personally don't think he will be able to resist the attraction of running in the Olympic Games, because ever since he started at this level he has always been a championship runner..." "Daddy where are you?" "And that has always been his strength, so I personally can't see that, when the Games actually come round, he will be able to say no." A male voice demanded: "Is it just that he's too old?" Footsteps.

"Well, obviously, he's older than a lot of his rivals, but he only started competing properly at 26, so in real terms he's not that old, he's probably only about..." "Mike, thanks for that," the female voice said. "Now, car- clamping can always be relied upon to get people's hackles up..." Another voice was talking to me now. "Hello? Mike? That was great. Thanks ever so much for all your help." "No problem," I said, as the door handle began to rattle. "It was a pleasure."