OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: Champion can cash in on title: Mike Rowbottom on the rewards application can bring

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The Independent Online
IT WAS curious to think, after Linford Christie's blinkered effort had seen him take his place alongside the previous British winners of the Olympic 100 metres title, Harold Abrahams and Allan Wells, that he seriously considered retiring less than a year ago.

After a European record of 9.92sec had earned him precisely nothing at the world championships in Tokyo, he announced in the immediate aftermath of the race that he was quitting. It was some time before he fully reconsidered his decision; letters he received at the time from athletics fans clearly swayed him towards having one last attempt at improving upon the silver medal he won at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Having committed himself to that course, however, Christie - who admits that when he first met his coach, Ron Roddan, at the age of 19, he did not much care for training - applied himself as never before.

For the first time, he avoided the temptation of running at home during the indoor season, a potential distraction. Instead, he and his coach spent eight weeks in Australia, training intensively. Even experienced observers were staggered by the way Christie applied himself to his task. 'He put us Australians to shame,' Mauri Plant, the Australian meetings promoter, said. 'He never missed a session. He showed us how to do it.'

For Christie, the change of routine and environment was highly effective. 'All my strength levels went up. Before I was doing 120 kilograms on bench repetitions. Now I do 135kg,' he said.

In the absence of any pressure to compete, he was also able to work on his techniques, particularly his starts, which he later sharpened up by training with Colin Jackson at home and, just before the Games began, in Monte Carlo. The rewards followed. In his races leading up to Barcelona he was beaten only once, by Olapade Adeniken, of Nigeria, whom he beat in his turn.

Once Carl Lewis failed to qualify for the US team, it was as if there were an extra charge about Christie. As he continued to see off the best of the African runners, and with the knowledge that he had beaten the US trials winner, Dennis Mitchell, early in the season, he sensed his chance.

His performance in the pre- Games meeting at Gateshead, where he tied with Burrell over 200, indicated that he was in a position to fulfil himself.

Throughout the 10 months which preceded the Olympics, Christie was mindful of the fact that relaxation was crucial to him. Despite the row over his criticism of the Tokyo 4x400 relay team, the trauma he witnessed at first hand earlier this week as his former training partner Jason Livingston was suspended following a drug test, and his own subsequent embroilment in skirmishes with reporters and photographers in the Olympic Village, he somehow managed to arrive at the Montjuc track clear of the tensions which have previously diminished him.

Further reward is in prospect now. In the immediate future, of course, he has the possibility of emulating Wells, the previous oldest 100m winner at 28, by taking a medal in the 200, in which he runs his first heat today.

Michael Johnson, the 200 world champion, is a favourite for the gold medal, having won the US trials in 19.79; but Christie, assuming he can maintain his concentration, looks capable of disputing at least the bronze medal.