Atlanta is 'go' for Christie '92 100 gold medalist will defend at age 36

July 02, 1996|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON -- And you thought Carl Lewis was a little too old to be sprinting.

Meet Linford Christie. He's a 36-year-old grandfather who swears he's the guy to beat in the men's 100-meter dash at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Yesterday, Christie ended months of uncertainty by announcing he will represent Great Britain and defend his 100 title in Atlanta. And just so he won't be bored in America, the place he calls "the front yard of sprinting," he says he'll enter the 200 and the 4x100 relay.

What makes Christie think he can win again? Ego, of course. But also experience. He is already the oldest Olympic sprint champ ever, claiming his 100 gold in 1992 at age 32.

"Age ain't nothing but a number," he says. "There's too much emphasis being placed on people's age. Whether you're 16 or 60, if you can do something, then you're able."

With the rise of the "professional" Olympics dominated by full-time athletes, age barriers are being broken every four years. Yet Christie's bid to win at 36 is nearly incomprehensible. But with a bodybuilder's torso and an uncanny ability to block out distractions, Christie races like a man a decade younger.

"You want to be immortal," he says. "Every time there is a sprinter coming up, you want people to say, 'Will he be as good as Linford?' "

Born in Jamaica, raised in England, Christie is track and field's late bloomer. He is also one of the sport's more volatile personalities, clashing with officials and the media. His British teammate, Derek Redmond, once called him "a balanced athlete -- with a chip on each shoulder."

Less than a year ago, Christie appeared in a television interview and emotionally announced he wouldn't compete in the Atlanta Olympics, saying he was being ill-treated by the media. Christie and his family had been subjected to numerous tabloid stories, including the revelation that his teen-age son had fathered a child out of wedlock.

Christie also labored under the burden of being a star in a country that has few black sporting heroes. In his autobiography, "To Be Honest With You," he writes that in Britain racism "has become institutionalized," and is "ingrained so cleverly that you can't do anything about it.

"People believe that black people in this country, that we're not lTC patriotic," he says. "But we are. We [black athletes] bring racial harmony. We show that people can go out there and work together. I think by what we're doing in sports for Britain, and being proud to be British, it is a good thing. It brings people together. We do work hard. We are ambitious."

Christie wraps himself in the Union Jack at every opportunity. He broke through on the international stage in the epic 1988 Olympic 100 final in Seoul, South Korea. There, he finished third behind Canada's Ben Johnson and America's Lewis, but moved up to the silver medal after Johnson was banished for a positive drug test.

Christie said he wept when he heard Johnson was caught cheating. But Christie also had a close call in Seoul, where a drug test showed traces of a banned stimulant. He avoided punishment when an International Olympic Committee panel accepted his explanation that he innocently had sipped ginseng.

Four years later in Barcelona, Christie won the biggest prize of the Olympics. Hands unclenched, eyes wide open, he raced as if in a trance, winning the 100 in 9.96 seconds to rout a field that included Namibia's Frankie Fredericks and America's Dennis Mitchell.

He reaffirmed his dominance at the 1993 world championships, winning the 100 gold in a personal-best 9.87 seconds. His 100 spell finally was broken last year, when he tore a hamstring in the world championships final; Canada's Donovan Bailey won the race.

But Christie is clearly back and clearly in top form heading into the summer season.

"I think I'm better than I was four years ago," he said. "I'm more consistent in my running. I'm running 10.0 all the time. I don't think 9.96 will get me a medal like it did in 1992. I'll have to go faster.

"In the Olympics, it's not the guy who is going to move from one end to the other the fastest who always wins," he said. "There's a lot of pressure out there. Some of the young guys stand there in front of 100,000 people, and it's nerve-wracking. With the experience I've had in the past, I can overcome that."

And who's the favorite for Olympic 100 gold?

Christie laughed and said, "Me."

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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