OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: Christie turns up the heat on Burrell

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The Independent Online
FOR A man who had recently experienced personal trauma at one remove, Linford Christie looked impressively unfazed as he began his pursuit of an Olympic gold 100 metres medal on the first day of the athletics programme in Montjuic stadium.

Before his first run of the day in the morning, Christie - whose task it was to counsel the distraught and suspended Jason Livingston - was so relaxed he was singing in the warm-up area. As he was wearing his portable stereo at the time, his team-mates had to inform him that he was out of tune.

That was the only disharmonious aspect to Britain's team captain yesterday as he moved into today's semi-finals with a time of 10.07sec and - perhaps significantly - earned his first victory in 11 races over the man who has already announced himself as the favourite. Following the previous day's outburst against photographers and reporters in the Olympic village, he was control itself. We hear a lot about athletes being 'focused'. With Christie last night you could almost see him imagining the final.

His first-round victory was a disdainful affair. His second brought him alongside not only Burrell, but, two lanes outside him, Ben Johnson - as intense as of old, but now a performer whose muscles no longer appear to have muscles. Just like old times.

The race was away after three false starts, the last of them clearly down to Johnson, who protested mightily with much waving of arms and staring at the impassive, red-coated starter.

When they finally got away, Johnson, despite the mental reservation of having one false start against him, got away sharply, but Christie was up with him within 20 metres and engaged in his battle with Burrell.

Earlier in the week, Burrell had been politely but obviously dismissive of Christie, carefully lauding him with faint praise. If Christie felt he had a point to prove, he did so, pulling away from the American in the last few metres to win in 10.08sec, one hundredth of a scecond ahead.

Afterwards Christie disappeared straight down the tunnel without even turning his head to acknowledge the American - or indeed, Johnson, who went through as the fourth man - his face a glaze of concentration. It changed to admit a wry smile as he padded away inside the stadium.

'Linford's looking good, and he still has another gear left in him even after this race,' said Frank Dick, Britain's director of coaching. Burrell commented: 'I ran a decent race, but Linford ran a lot better. I had gotten a bit worn out by all the false starts.'

Mark Witherspoon, Dennis Mitchell and Frankie Fredericks won the other three heats, but Marcus Adam, Britain's other competitor in Livngston's absence, missed qualifying in his heat by a single place, running 10.35.

The 10,000 metres heats saw Eamonn Martin, British record holder and winner of the UK trials, fail to qualify for Monday's final. Ironically Paul Evans, who finished third behind Martin in Sheffield and belatedly reached the qualifying mark at a low key race in Tooting, went through, as, impressively, did Richard Nerurkar.

Evans ran boldly to finish third in his heat behind William Koech of Kenya in a time of 28min 15.70sec. Martin finished 18th in his heat after being dropped early on. 'I've not been right since the AAA's 5,000,' he said. 'I've had a tooth infection and a blood check showed a slight viral infection. I've been feeling bad early on in races and tonight the heat multiplied things. It's a bit depressing.'

In the high jump, Dalton Grant's record of rising to the occasion failed him. Brendan Reilly, the 20-year-old from Corby, also failed to qualify but Steve Smith went through.

Smith had to clear 2.29m with his last jump to make tomorrow's final. He has already shown his fighting qualities in his short career, and has reached 2.31 earlier this season, but to make such a height at such a pressing time was an impressive achievement.

If Grant, who finished fourth in last year's world championships in clearing a British record of 2.36m, is unable to pull himself back into his position as senior British jumper, Smith looks well set to be able to carry on where he leaves off; as indeed does Reilly who jumped 2.23 on the night.

Yvonne Murray reached tomorrow's 3,000m final without undue distress, finishing second in 8min 51.16sec to Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland, who, perhaps to prove a point to Murray and the third- placed Unified Team runner, Elena Romanova, finished with a sprint. Britain's Alison Wyeth joined her in the final with a personal best of 8:43.93, but a brave run and personal best of 8:47.71 was not enough.

Tessa Sanderson, competing in her fifth Olympics - a record for a British athlete - qualified safely for today's final in eighth place with a throw of 60.70m, 12cm ahead of the world record-holder, Petra Meier. Both were an uncomfortably long way away from the two leading throwers, Natalia Shikolenko of the Unified Team, and Trine Hattestad of Norway, who threw 67.36 and 67.20 respectively.

'It doesn't get any easier,' Sanderson said. 'That's the hardest semi-final I've ever had to do. It is very hot and humid and the air out there is dead. I kept quite composed, but my legs were a problem. I've got to analyse what went wrong tonight. I stumbled once because I took a stride that was too long at the end. I wasn't over-nervous or scared of the competition. I really went for the second throw but my last stride was mistimed.'

In her heat of the women's 100m second round Britain's Stephanie Douglas found herself in the exalted company of Gwen Torrence, of the United States, and Merlene Ottey of Jamaica, first and third in this year's world rankings. Douglas false started before finishing last. Ottey and Torrence ran in together, with Ottey crossing the line first in 11.15sec. But the best performance of the round came from the Unified Team's Irina Privalova, who recorded 10.98sec.

The first track and field medal of the Games went to Michael Stulce, who finished just ahead of his American team-mate Jim Doehring in the shot put with 21.70m, the third best throw this year. The world champion, Werner Gunthor of Switzerland, missed a medal by one place.

(Photograph omitted)