OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Untimely blow for Christie

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The Independent Online
LINFORD Christie's preparation for what could be the climactic competition of his career was dealt a crushing blow on the eve of today's first round of the 100 metres. As the athletics programme gets under way, he will have to try to ignore the trauma he has experienced at one remove, involving his one-time training partner Jason Livingston.

Christie's role in counselling Livingston as the 21-year-old took in the news of his suspension made sense, in as much as he was a friend and team captain. But from an athletics point of view, the timing has been disastrous.

The pressure on Christie, as he makes one last attempt, at 32, to earn an Olympic gold for the 100m, was already huge. But his agitated state of mind yesterday - when he shouted at photographers taking pictures of him and was said to have screwed up one reporter's notebook - bodes ill.

The ironic thing is that this year's 100m represents Christie's best chance ever following Carl Lewis's failure to qualify. In Gateshead earlier this month, Christie admitted he was relieved at the absence of the world champion because their running styles were so similar. There are still three top Americans, of course, but the world championship silver medallist, Leroy Burrell, has been exhibiting signs of weakness recently that must be encouraging for Christie.

Talking here on Wednesday, Burrell admitted that he had been suffering from a back injury which had left him doubled over in pain after being beaten by Lewis in Sestriere two weeks ago. He claimed the back was now 'quite loose' and he was able to compete as well as ever, but it is clearly a worry.

He nevertheless maintained that, as the only man in the field to have run under 9.90sec, he was clear favourite for the event - 'I think that out of everyone here I am probably a little bit more experienced than the others - besides Linford, of course.'

But the question of whether he felt Christie could beat him after a run of 10 consecutive defeats at the distance aroused an unmistakeably negative response: 'Do you want me to answer that question honestly?' he said, before diplomatically praising the British runner as 'a big meet guy' and a key figure because of his history. If Burrell is not as fit as he says he is, then either of the other two Americans - Dennis Mitchell and Mark Witherspoon - could take advantage.

The charge of the Africans - albeit Africans working within the US college system - has lost a little of its impetus in recent weeks. Davidson Ezinwa, with early season credits of 9.96sec and a questionable 9.91, has not shown the same form since. But Olapade Adeniken, another Nigerian with a best this year of 9.97sec, has been the one man to beat Christie over 100m this season and has also given the world champion, Michael Johnson, a run for his money over 200m. Frankie Fredericks of Namibia has only a best of 10.09sec this year, but he has indicated his competitiveness by beating Johnson over 200m.

Does the disgraced Ben Johnson has a chance to win? Given his fastest recorded time of the year, 10.16sec, surely not. But there are alarming rumours of him having teamed up again with his coach of 1988, Charlie Francis, and he is said to be looking very fast in training.

Steve Backley's Olympic gold medal prospects received a boost with the news that Czechoslovakia's Jan Zelezny will not be allowed to use the javelin with which he set the world record of 94.74 metres earlier this month. At yesterday's IAAF Council meeting in Barcelona, it was decided the model had not been in production long enough to be used at the Games, and they will rule at their next meeting if it conforms to specifications.