Shaping future stars

Shaping future stars

Barcelona Games champion Linford Christie says Street Athletics is the way forward for the sport

Shaping future stars

The name Linford Christie evokes different feelings in different people. A sprint champion who won every major title on the planet, his career had more than its share of controversies and even a finish marred by a doping issue.

As a coach, he is the guiding light to some of Britain’s brightest medal hopefuls and as a man with true passion for sport, he continues to work with children from less-privileged communities, bringing them to the mainstream. The 100M gold medallist at the Barcelona Olympic Games, Christie has to his credit some very fast times, with his personal best of 9.87 seconds coming at the World Championships in Stuttgart, where he won the gold.

The two-year ban he underwent after his positive dope test meant Christie too was placed under the life-time Olympic ban that British Olympic Association imposed on drug offenders. It has been struck down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport but the 52-year-old isn’t too bothered by the issue, having affirmed his innocence many times in the past.  

In Bangalore for the TCS World 10K run as its brand ambassador, the Briton spoke on matters close to his heart. Excerpts:

With just two months left for the Olympic Games, what is the mood in London?

The general public is really excited about the Games they are waiting for the Games to start. The mood among the athletes is that it is coming around too soon — You always want an extra month to prepare. Sometimes I think the public doesn’t understand why they are excited and we are not. Then there are people who don’t want it at all. The torch relay is on now but I’m not one of these guys in suits and tie and doing all those kind of things. I do what I do best and that’s with the athletes. That’s their business; not mine.

What is your comment on BOA’s Olympic life-ban being struck down by the CAS?

To be honest it never bothered me. I never did anything wrong – if they want to think I did then it’s up to them. And I’m coaching my athletes and so that didn’t make any difference to me at all. I was one of the people who signed that charter. I do think there should be a life ban on people caught deliberately taking drugs. But the problem is some people are using that as an agenda to do different things. But you know that’s politics. I’ll just coach and bring some of the future athletes into the sport.

What are your memories of your Olympic triumph?

God, that was 20 years ago! For me winning the Olympics wasn’t for me. It was for my coach — who’s there in whatever weather, the snow, the rain. Every coach wants to coach an Olympic champion and so for me that was for him and all the training partners.
There’s a lot of emphasis put on the Olympic Games itself but I’m an athlete. I just go out there and perform. The world championships meant a lot more to me because it was a tougher race. They say the hotter the battle the sweeter the victory. That for me was it. I ran my fastest time at the WCs and that’s always going to be in my memory.

In Barcelona knew I was going to win. I felt that from the semifinals. Of all the athletes there, I was the most experienced and that counts for a lot. A lot of the guys were nervous. People say it’s the Olympic games – there’s pressure – but for me it was just another race. When you finish the race then it becomes the Olympic Games. You have to think of it as another race to do well.

At 32, you became the oldest Olympic champion in 100M...

Those guys were a lot younger than I was. I got into the sport very late. I’d done all the things I wanted to do as a child or a young person. But those guys, they were in two minds – some still wanted to do different things. So I was more mature than they were. I didn’t think it was my last chance, Atlanta would have been my last chance. I just came off the World Champs in 1991 where I ran the fourth fastest time ever. You never know what’s going to happen. In our sport one day you’re at the top, next day you’re at the bottom. For me it was a good feeling. Another notch on my CV. Till then I’d won everything else. Olympics and the World Championships were missing.

You were a late starter...

When you want to be an athlete you’ve got to sacrifice a lot. And I just wasn’t ready for it. And one day something clicks. You decide – this is what it feels like. Every time you win something bigger it feels better. And you get addicted to winning. They tell you it’s not the winning but the taking part, but when you grow older you realise it’s not the taking part, it’s all about the winning...

Could you tell us about the Street Athletics programme pioneered by you?

We have been doing it for seven years now. Me and Darren Campbell, we were just talking about how we can contribute. That time there was lot of stories about so many young kids getting lost to computer games and we were thinking about how to get them into sports. We raced people on the streets. We played different games with the kids of the streets and that’s all training without them realising. So we set up Street Athletics where we go into the neighbourhoods to the kids who feel they are neglected. We took it to the Manchester City Council and it came off. We have five age-groups, we start from babies. They can walk or sometimes we pick them up and run. It is about creating a fun element. Then we go onto a grand final. We went into areas where the crime is high. We met the kids who are supposed to be bad kids but we never had any problem. We go around the country into the neighbourhoods creating community spirit together. It is a great concept and it works.

Drug problem has been rife in sport. Do you feel that the cheats are ahead of the WADA?

That’s media jargon. They do that to sex everything up. You run fast and then they say you are doing something. And if you don’t run fast they say, ‘oh you are not doing it any more’. Lot of people will always say the others are doing something until they run the same time. Lot of media people, lot of ex-athletes in media, say a lot of things -- they did sport, they didn’t make it and because they didn’t make it, they try to tarnish everybody else.

Who would you rank as the best sprinters of all time?

You can compile a list in two ways — the fastest and then the greatest going by the medals they have won. The greatest list will have Carl Lewis -- who has won more medals than anyone else -- Jesse Owens and Usain Bolt and the fastest will be like Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay.

There was a thought that height was a disadvantage for sprinters but Bolt seems to be having no problems...

Sport is changing. Earlier you had small and skinny winners. Then there was big and then big and big. And now Bolt. I always thought 6-feet, 6-feet 2-inches is the ideal height but he (6’ 5”) has proven that he can move his legs as fast a 5’ 5” runner which is tremendous. Every now and then we have freaks and he is the freak in our sport. We are blessed to have Bolt in athletics. In our time, we had Carl Lewis, Frankie Fredericks and Dennis Mitchell -- all characters in sport. You never knew who was going to win. The rivalry created the interest that people wanted to see. Now people want to see who is going to give Usain Bolt little bit of trouble. If Usain Bolt is in a race, nine times out of ten people know it is going to be Usain.

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