Olympic Games: Athletics: Christie cuts the fastest dash of all

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The Independent Online
HOW THEY FINISHED

L Christie (GB) 9.96

F Fredericks (Nam) 10.02

D Mitchell (US) 10.04

LINFORD Christie always said he was going to run very, very fast at the Barcelona Olympics. In the event, he did not beat his personal best at the Montjuic stadium last night - but who was to care as he became the third Briton after Harold Abrahams and Allan Wells to win the Olympic 100 metres title?

Christie, beaten in the semi-final by the man who was reckoned - and who acknowledged himself to be - the favourite, Leroy Burrell of the United States, got away to the sort of start he has been working towards and dreaming about all year. As he overhauled the early leader, Bruny Surin of Canada, the American who had beaten him 10 times in a row before the Games began to labouring and slip away. As Frankie Fredericks of Namibia and the other US runner in the field, Dennis Mitchell, came through for silver and bronze, Christie crossed the line in 9.96sec cocooned in utterly single-minded concentration which gave way suddenly to a look that was mad with joy and disbelief and things beyond words.

He has said in the past that he had nothing to prove, having won medals at every major championships. But his reaction yesterday upon being asked how he would have felt had he not won gold revealed another attitude. 'Thank God I don't have to think about the medal eluding me,' he said.

After the week he has had, embroiled in the Jason Livngston business in his role as team captain, he had done supremely well.

'This has got to be the greatest day of my life,' he said. 'I'm so glad I didn't retire after the Tokyo world championships.'

At the age of 32, Christie knew this was his last - and in the absence of the defending champion, Carl Lewis, who failed at the US trials - his best chance to win the title he and his coach, Ron Roddan, had worked towards since they teamed up seven years ago.

After the disappointment of last year, when he had threatened to quit just after finishing his race in Tokyo, where a personal best of 9.92sec failed to earn him anything but respect, Christie has dedicated himself utterly to the goal he achieved here. He and his coach went to Australia for eight weeks in the winter to work specifically on improving his strength and technique, and Christie came back maintaining that he had never been in such good form before.

And yet even at the moment of his sweetest victory, he betrayed the insecurity which has always accompanied his more bellicose attitude to opponents and, on occasions, the media.

'Friends around me believed in me a lot more than I did myself,' he said. 'It was 90 per cent in my mind that I believed I could do it. But after the semi-final I realised there was a lot more in the tank.'

After a false start credited to Burrell, Christie had stood totally composed, eyes glazed with concentration, before settling to his blocks. There was destiny about it. His meeting with Lewis after the Games should be something.

The semi-finals saw the expected exit of Ben Johnson and the unexpected fall of Mark Witherspoon, second in the US trials, who stumbled and lost his balance 10 metres from the start before spinning to the track, where he lay in distress and pain as the cameramen, and belatedly the pale blue-coated medical officials, swarmed towards him, an unseemly order at which the crowd registered their disapproval. The pictures still fed smoothly on to the stadium screens.

Witherspoon, a 27-year-old computer graphics worker from Houston, Texas, had been regarded as a dark horse. Now he was quite lame, and stretchered from the stadium with his hands over his face suffering from what was later diagnosed as an Achilles tendon injury.

Johnson, making the most of his most natural talent, got away to a fast start but also stumbled a few strides on, perhaps unable to control his impetus. After that the diminished figure who four years ago so arrogantly bestrode the Olympics before a fall quite as unexpected as Witherspoon's, was left further and further behind in his inside lane, crossing the line five metres behind the wave of runners attracting all the attention.

The women's 100 metres was won by a woman who just two years ago could not walk and faced having her feet amputated after doctors diagnosed a serious thyroid affliction of the type that has more recently afflicted Geroge Bush, although nowhere near as seriously.

Gail Devers, of the United States, came through in the second lane to beat Julia Cuthbert of Jamaica on the line. Devers finished in 10.82, beating her opponent by 0.01sec. When she was finally convinced, she bolted over towards her coach, Bob Kersee, in the crowd and virtually jumped over the rails into his arms.

Devers, 25, began feeling ill in June 1988, shortly after setting an American record of 12.61sec in the 100m hurdles. Soon she was having difficulty breathing on the track and suffering from migraine headaches, and would momentarily lose the sight in her left eye.

Despite this, she managed to reach the Olympic semi-finals, but by the end of the 1989 season she was worse. Finally, in September 1990, her condition was diagnosed as Graves Disease, and her thyroid found to have a cyst the size of a child's fist within it.

Unfortunately the air of contentment was disturbed at the post-race conference as Gwen Torrence, the American who finished fourth, complained that two of the three runners ahead of her had been guilty of drug abuse. 'I would prefer everyone to take a blood test in front of the media,' Torrence said.

Cuthbert responded: 'I think Gwen is a sorry loser. I'm 100 per cent clean.' Devers herself said she took no drugs other than those required to control her illness.

Tessa Sanderson, competing in her fifth Olympics, said goodbye in the javelin with a performance she could be proud of, failing to get a medal by just one place.

Sanderson, who had only managed to reach the final in eighth place, earned fourth place with a first throw of 63.58m, despite still having problems with her timing that she suspected would undermine her chances if anything did.

As she had predicted, the gold was won with a throw of 68m - 68.34m to be precise, from Silke Renk of Germany, with Natalia Shaikolenko of the Unified Team earning silver medal with 68.26

The women's marathon was won by Valentina Yegorova of the Unified Team, who withstood a late challenge from Yuko Arimori of Japan after the favourite, Lisa Ondieki of Australia, had got into trouble after an hour's running.

In the women's 10,000m heats, Liz McColgan and Jill Hunter qualified easily, but Andrea Wallace, suffering with a bad back, failed.

In the 800m heats, Tom McKean, making sure he did not slacken his efforts too soon as he did in Tokyo, went through along with Steve Heard and Curtis Robb, who looked impressively assured as he overtook the pack to finish clear of a field including the defending champion, Paul Ereng.

(Photograph omitted)

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