11 October 2018 Ivan Sarto

Linford Christie, the sphinx legend

Linford ChristieThe only British man to have won gold medals in the 100 m at all four major competitions open to British athletes: the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games, will be the president of the jury of the 2018 Sportel Awards in Monaco. He was also the first European to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 m and still holds the British record in the event. He is a former work indoor record holder over 200 m, and a former European record holder in the 60 m, 100 m and 4X100 m relay.

Christie was born in Saint Andrew in Jamaica, where he was brought up by his grandmother. At the age of seven he followed his parents, who had emigrated to Acton, London, England, five years before. He was educated at Henry Compton Secondary School in Fulham, London and excelled in physical education. He competed in the very first London Youth Games in 1977 for the borough of Hammersmith & Fulham. He also joined the Air Training Corps in 1978, 336 (Hammersmith) Squadron. He did not take up athletics seriously until he was 19.

Christie’s early track career was not promising. He failed to make the Great Britain team for the 1984 Summer olympics, not even being included in the sprint relay squad. It was not until he began to work in earnest under the coaching of Ron Roddan that he began to fulfill his potential.

In 1986, he was the surprise winner of the 100 m at the European Championships and finished second in the same event at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, behind Ben Johnson.

At the 1987 Work Championships in Athletics in Rome, Christie came fourth in the 100 m, but was later awarded the bronze medal, when winner Ben Johnson was disqualified after admitting years of steroid use.

At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, Christie won the 100 m silver behind Carl Lewis after Ben Johnson, who set a world record in 9.79 seconds, was disqualified following a positive drug test for anabolic steroids. Christie’s time was 9.97 seconds, a new European record by 0.03 seconds and only the second time anyone had ever broken the ten-second barrier and not won the race. Christie faced a disciplinary hearing himself in Seoul because of an adverse drug test for the banned stimulant pseudoephedrine after he ran in the heats of the 200 m. The hearing panel decided by a single vote to give Christie “the benefit of the doubt”, so no sanction was applied.

In 1992, Christie became the third British athlete to win the Olympic 100 m, after Harold Abrahams and Allan Wells, winning the title ahead of Frankie Fredericks of Namibia at the Barcelona Olympic Games. In the absence of his great rival Lewis, Christie ran 9.96 s in the final, and at the age of 32 years 121 days became the oldest Olympic 100 m champion by four years 38 days.

In 1993, he became the first man in history to hold the Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth titles in the 100 m as he was victorious at the Stuttgart World Championships in his fastest ever time of 9.87. He was also voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year. The following year, in 1994, he defended his Commonwealth title in Victoria in his second fastest ever 100m time of 9.91.

Though more famous as a 100 m runner, Christie broke the world indoor record over 200 m with 20.25 s at Liévin in 1995, and remains the third fastest sprinter on the all-time list. He remains the British record-holder at 100 m, with the 9.87 s he ran at the 1993 World Championships. By the end of his track career Christie had won 24 medals overall, more than any other British male athlete before or since. He was appointed MBE in 1990 and OBE in 1998.

In 1993 Christie formed a sports management and promotions company, Nuff Respect, with sprint-hurdler Colin Jackson. One of their early products was a sports training and workout video, The S Plan: Get Fit with Christie and Jackson. Jackson was later to leave the enterprise, saying “Linford has to be in control, he has to be number one, he has to be the leader.” Since his positive drug test Christie – who had worked as a presenter on the BBC children’s programme Record Breakers and also had a contract with BBC Sport – has spent less time as a public figure and has devoted most of his time to managing his company.

Reflecting upon his track career, he stated: “I will have no complaints if people remember me as one of the best athletes in the world.” Away from the track, Christie, a keen amateur gardener, also co-hosted the BBC series Garden Invaders.

In 1993 the West London Stadium was renamed the Linford Christie Stadium in his honour. Christie’s famous claim that he started races on the “B of the Bang” inspired a large public sculpture of the same name. Erected as a celebration of the 2002 Common Wealth Games in Manchester, it was officially unveiled by Christie in 2004. Owing to safety concerns, it was dismantled in 2009. In the 1996 Summer Olympics, he was disqualified due to two false starts.

As of 2009, Christie’s British record of 9.87 seconds in the 100 metres makes him the third fastest European in history; after Francis Obikwelu’s 9.86 s personal best which broke Christie’s European record, and the same time achieved by French sprinter Jimmy Vicaut. His 100 m personal best fares favourably in comparison with his contemporaries: Carl Lewis and Frankie Fredericks managed 9.86 s while Leroy Burrell ran 9.85 s. Christie broke the ten-second barrier nine times, and was the first European to break the ten-second barrier. In the 1988 100 metres Olympic final, he became the first man to break the ten-second barrier and not win the race. In the 1991 100 metres World Championships final, he became the first man to break the ten-second barrier and come fourth, running 9.92 seconds.

Christie also holds 3 current 35–39 masters age group work records. On 23 September 1995, Christie set the current M35 world record of 9.97 in the 100 m. On 25 June 1995 he set the current M35 world record in the 200 m in 20.11 seconds and on 3 January 1997 Christie set the current indoor record in the M35 60 m in a time of 6.51 seconds. In 2010, he was inducted into the England Athletics Hall of Fame and in 2009 he was inducted into the London Youth Games Hall of Fame.