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Linford Christie

Linford Christie

Date of Birth: 1960

Born: St. Andrews, Jamaica.

Club(s): London Irish, Thames Valley Harriers.

Coach: Ron Roddan.

 

Late Starter

Linford Christie's career came to a controversial end when he was banned for testing positive for nandrolone in 1999, but the facts which preceded this shocking finale could not be in dispute. He was the greatest sprinter Britain produced, an athlete who emerged onto the scene at a late stage in life for an athlete and carved out an unique niche.

 His 23 major championships medals, which included 10 golds, is a British male record along with his 26 national titles, and he was, and arguably still is, among the most famous sportsmen in the country. His two greatest moments came within a year of each other, when he won the Olympic 100m gold medal in Barcelona in 1992 before winning the World title in Stuttgart 12 months later. Whenever he ran, you could not help but be drawn to the drama his races would produce and more often that not a story would emerge from the edge he would bring to an occasion. 

 

Building Towards Barcelona

Christie was the middle child of seven. He came to Britain when he was seven and lived in Shepherd’s Bush. Though he left school when he was 16 and had a different number of jobs, sport always held a place in his heart and he was coached at the West London Stadium near his home by Ron Roddan, who remained his mentor for his whole career where he ran for Thames Valley Harriers.

Christie burst into international prominence in 1986 - at the age of 25 - with gold medals in the European Indoor 200m and outdoor 100m (bronze at sprint relay), and silver in the Commonwealth 100m. In 1987 he was originally fourth in the World 100m, but was upgraded to bronze when Canada’s Ben Johnson was disqualified a year later. Having narrowly missed out on making the Olympic team for Los Angeles in 1984, Christie was nearing his peak when the time of Seoul came around. In South Korea, the final of the 100m was sport’s most controversial race. Christie finished third in 9.97, before the bombshell news that Johnson, the champion, had tested positive for taking a banned anabolic steroid.

As American Carl Lewis was promoted to the gold medal position, Christie moved into silver - but then found himself at the centre of his own controversy when his sample showed suspect readings. It was down to him drinking ginseng tea and no action was taken. Four years later, Christie was in his prime and though his great rival Lewis was not in Barcelona, the Briton was in fabulous shape, and at the age of 32, as he won gold in 9.96, he became, by four years, the oldest Olympic 100m champion.

It was a monumental triumph, a glory which elevated Christie to superstar status and took him onto the front pages. A year later he sealed his position as an all-time great by winning the World title - and beating Lewis, who had won all three previous titles but was fourth this time - in 9.87, a European record and just 0.01 off the world record. Earlier that year the pair had been paid £100,000 each for a 100m showdown at Gateshead which Christie had won. In October 1993, his home track, the West London Stadium, was renamed in his honour. 

 

No Stopping The Success…Until Atlanta

Having won the European titles in 1986 and 1990, he achieved a hat-trick of successes in 1994 - when he also retained his Commonwealth title before, in 1995, he set his first world record, indoors at 200m with 20.25 in Lievin and improved his European indoor 60m record to 6.47.

Though injury saw him fail to land a medal at the World Championships in 1995, he arrived at the Olympic Games in Atlanta determined to show that he was far from finished. It would spark Christie’s fury when the media would talk about his age, but too often the point was being made of how he good was for 36.

 A sprinter whose whole essence in his career was based on ‘tunnel vision’. When he stood on that start-line, even if 100,000 spectators were waiting to see the outcome, he would control his mind on solely the lane ahead of him - and nothing else. Normally, it worked spectacularly, but when he came to defend his title, no-one could ever believe that he would be disqualified. The nerve-tingling tension of the final of the blue riband event of the Olympics is incredible, but here Christie added to it by false-starting. The runners were called back to their blocks and he beat the gun again illegally. What followed was a long protest, before the judges ruled that they were correct. Christie was out, and it was ironic that his major championship career would end in the heats of the 4 x 100m relay. He would have run in the final, but the British did not reach that stage because they crashed out in the first round, after they dropped the baton. One of the culprits was Darren Campbell, who, four years later in Sydney, Christie would guide onto the Olympic podium as the 200m silver medallist. 

 

The End, But Just The Start

Christie was always building to the future and in the mid-1990s he set up, with fellow British teammate Colin Jackson, the management company Nuff Respect. They brought together some of the best young athletes in the country, such as Campbell, and would train them and look after their off-the-track affairs. The partnership would end acrimoniously, and after Christie had bowed out of the sport in 1997, he turned to coaching. Campbell was his main protégé and while building towards Sydney, he was also advising 400m runner Katharine Merry.

 Having quit the sport in 1997, he became involved in presenting BBC television show Record Breakers and was part of the corperation's television athletics team. But totally unexpectedly in 1999, he started racing indoors. He ran 6.57 at Karlsruhe in the January and when he returned to Germany to race in Dortmund the following month, it changed his life. He was there as a bet to show young stars Campbell and Merry that he could still do it - but after finishing fourth in the race, a routine drugs test shown excessive levels of the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

With other positives for this drug, it proved to be a cause celebre – and all concerned were cleared by UK Athletics who said “it could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt” but the IAAF upheld a two-year-ban. Christie’s sample apparently contained nearly 100 times the permitted limit of nandrolone. He lost his job with the BBC, but he remained a coach to such a high level that the following year in Sydney, Merry won Olympic 400m bronze and Campbell 200m silver. They insisted that they would never have achieved that without the inspiration of Christie.

He was awarded the MBE in 1990 and OBE in 1998.

 

International Championships

1986: 1st 200m European Indoors; 2nd 100m Commonwealth Games, 1st 100m, sf 200m, 3rd 4x100m Europeans

1987: 3rd 100m Worlds

1988: 3rd 200m European Indoors; 1st 60m European Indoors; 2nd 100m & 4x100m, 4th 200m Olympics

1989: 1st 100m, 2nd 4x100m World Cup

1990: 1st 60m European Indoors; 1st 100m & 4x100m Commonwealth Games, 1st 100m, 3rd 200m, 2nd 4x100m Europeans

1991: 2nd 60m & 200m World Indoors; 4th 100m, sf 200m, 3rd 4x100m Worlds

1992: 1st 100m, sf 200m, 4th 4x100m Olympics; 1st 100m, 2nd 200m World Cup

1993: 1st 100m, 2nd 4x100m Worlds

1994: 1st 100m Commonwealth Games, 1st 100m Europeans; 1st 100m & 4x100m World Cup

1995: 6th 100m Worlds

1996: dq 100m, qf 200m Olympics

European Cup: record 14 wins: 200m 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993-7, 200m 1987, 1994, 1995, 4x100m 1989, 1993-4.

UK Internationals: 64 (1980-96)

 

National Championships

Won UK 100m 1985, 1987, 1990-3; 200m 1985 (tie), 1988; AAA 100m 1986, 1988-9, 1991-4, 1996; 200m 1988.

 

Personal bests

100m 9.97 (1988), 150m 14.97 (1994), 14.74w (1995); 200m 20.09 (1988), 300m 33.80 (1988), 400m 47.75 (1991)

Indoors: 60m 6.47 (1995), 200m 20.25 (1995)