Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Interview with Linford Christie

August 5th 2012 in London. It’s only 10 seconds of action. Yet 1.8 million people have applied for the 40,000 tickets available. The Men’s Olympic 100 metres - arguably the greatest show on earth. Only 25 men have won gold and only three are British - Harold Abrahams in 1924, Allan Wells in 1980 and Linford Christie in 1992.

Under normal circumstances television viewers could expect to catch a glimpse of the latter two amongst the dignitaries that will make up half of the 80,000 crowd. As he’s also coaching sprinter Mark Lewis Francis, the current 100 metres silver medallist, Christie could even have one of his athletes in the final. Britain’s most decorated male athlete will therefore be noticeable by his absence.

Linford Christie with some of the athletes he's helping train
It’s the result of the British Olympic Association accreditation ban at Olympic Games imposed on Christie after he was found guilty in 1999 of using the performance-enhancing drug Nandrolone. This followed a doping test at the end of an indoor meeting in Germany. Christie, who had retired from international competition two years earlier, was also banned from athletics for two years.

Even though the Olympic, British, Commonwealth and European Gold Medallist had 100 times the normal levels of nandrolone in his urine he claimed this was caused by his use of nutritional supplements and he strenuously denied taking any drugs. He still does.

In 1998 Christie had been successful in a libel action against John McVicar after the journalist insinuated his remarkable rise to fame in his mid 20s was the result of using performance-enhancing drugs. In his autobiography, first published in 1989, Christie had put his improved performances down to his increased maturity and willingness to listen to his coach's constant advice to work harder to harness his talent.

McVicar, a former armed robber, was forced to pay damages but at only £40,000 Christie would have lost money as his legal costs would have been greater.

Christie says: “I don't regret successfully suing John McVicar because he accused me of doing something that I have never done.”

It wasn’t the first time the Londoner had successfully sued. During the 1980s he experienced on many occasions harassment and racist abuse by the Metropolitan Police. In particular he was frequently stopped whilst driving, including when he was using a Budget car on loan to the Olympic team. Arrested, when the charges were later dropped he went to court where the police accepted liability, apologised and damages were agreed. The ensuing publicity was one of a number of factors that have led to a significant rise in the number of civil actions against police forces across the country since.

“I’d have accepted an apology, It was not forthcoming, hence the case. It was important to show the police that they cannot push people around whatever their colour,” says Christie.

He’s just back from overseas training in Arziona: “We spent 7 weeks solely concentrating on training with no distractions from other work or home life.  The weather was fantastic, facilities amazing and although it was a big group with 18 people, we all had a great time.”

In addition to Lewis Francis the group included Laura Turner who is expected to represent Britain at the 100 and 200 metres and sprint relay next summer. As her coach though Christie will not be allowed access to the Olympic Village or trackside, as was also the case in Beijing three years ago.

He claims that doesn’t concern him too much saying that. “Being a coach on the outside of the establishment works because it allows me to coach who I want and train where is best for the group.”

His lack of popularity amongst athletics governing bodies hasn’t prevented other athletes and sports stars signing up to be represented by Christie’s sports management agency Nuff Respect. This was formed soon after his Olympic success in Barcelona in 1992 and current clients include the boxer David Haye and broadcaster Sharron Davies.

The agency also helps organise a series of Street Athletics events for young people across the country culminating with the final being held in Albert Square, Manchester. This year’s is likely to be on September 10th.

“Darren Campbell [an Olympic 100 metre gold medal relay medallist] and I created the project from scratch and we have been engaging young people through sport, music and dance for the past 7 years.  We have had some fantastic success stories and both Darren and I are very proud of the impact it has on young people's lives. Anyone wanting to get involved should look up the website at: www.streetathletics.co.uk” says Christie, a father of three.

As he’s keen to see more young people taking up sporting activities Christie is disappointed by the cut of over 80% in government funds to schools sports partnerships saying: “Sport in school is hugely important and is the way that most top sportsmen and women were discovered and encouraged to develop their talents.  It would be a big mistake to devalue the impact sport in schools has on children's lives.” 

Is he also concerned that the Olympics will not leave behind the “great legacy” promised by Tony Blair at the time they were awarded to London?

“I think it’s much easier to say than deliver. The public should be encouraged to use the Olympics in Britain as a motivation to get active and involve themselves with their community and localised sports events” says Christie.

And what does he think will be his legacy, how would like to be remembered?  “It is not up to me, people will form their own opinion and by then I won't care anyway.”

Track record

Linford Christie won 23 major championship medals including ten gold.

He is the oldest man at aged 32 to win Olympic Gold. He ran 9.96 seconds in a final missing his great rival Carl Lewis, the only man to have taken gold twice. Lewis had failed to qualify at the US trials. When the two met at the World Championships the following year in Stuttgart Christie says he ‘was probably at his most nervous as there had been a lot of talk from Carl Lewis that I'd only won the Olympics the previous year, because he wasn't there.” Christie took the gold.

Christie was born in Jamaica in 1960 and moved to London seven years later. His favourite book - because of its inspiration - is The Bible. He is unable to say which is his favourite film or who is his favourite singer saying: “there’s too many choices.”  He is a keen gardener. Prior to taking up athletics full time he worked as a cashier for the Co-op and as a clerical assistant for the Inland Revenue.

 twitter @ChristieLinford

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