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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 08:09 GMT
Linford Christie: Polishing his pride
Linford Christie is engaged in a war of words with another of Britain's Olympic heroes, Sebastian Coe. Chris Jones of the BBC's News Profiles Unit looks at Christie's campaign to restore his proud reputation as he emerges from a drugs ban still protesting his innocence.
Ten seconds, from the starter's pistol to breasting the finishing line, was all it would take to transform Linford Christie.
As he limbered up and performed his last stretches before the start, the scowl would be followed by the stare, and while he would appear to be focussed only on his own efforts, he was always aware that his studied indifference toward his opponents could be a powerful weapon in intimidating and undermining them.
With the race over and victory secured, as so often it was, Christie's broad smile would emerge, bright enough to bathe everyone around in its beam. Well, almost everyone, barring one of his team-mates for six years, Sebastian Coe.
For Christie, the man who had a nation punching the air in 1992 when he won the Olympic 100 metres gold in Barcelona and in '93, when he won the world championship title, is labelled "boorish" by Coe, twice Olympic 1500m champion and 11 times world record-breaker.
Lord Coe of Ranmore, Private Secretary and judo partner to the Conservatives' leader, William Hague, also claimed in a newspaper article that Christie had been "lucky" to escape a drugs ban at the Seoul Olympics when a positive test was attributed to ginseng.
Christie was not to be so "lucky" when, in semi-retirement, he received a two-year ban from the International Amateur Athletic Federation, IAAF, after he tested positive to 100 times the acceptable level of the performance-enhancing steroid, nandrolone.
While he continues to protest his innocence, "I'll take a lie detector test any time", he says, and friends declare their belief in his integrity, others have their doubts.
And the great majority, their athletics experience confined to Olympic finals on television, simply wonder.
Another of Britain's Olympic heroes, the double-gold decathlete Daley Thompson, is a friend of Christie and Coe, and believes their feud is explained largely by the difference in their characters and origins.
Sebastian Coe had a middle-class upbringing, a university education and has become a Peer of the Realm.
Linford Christie, OBE, MBE, was born in St Andrews, Jamaica, the middle child of seven in a working-class, Pentecostal household. He was brought to Britain when he was seven, living in a modest home in south London.
But Christie is intent on demolishing a stereotypical assumption: "It's always been portrayed that I grew up in poverty, which is what happens when you're black in England", he says. "We weren't rich, but we got along".
He left school at 16, held a variety of jobs and was more eager to party than to train, and fathered three children out of wedlock. "I was young, I made mistakes", he says.
His coach, Ron Roddan, convinced Christie of his potential, and he duly went on to acquire fame and fortune.
But Christie says he is saddened that people do not bother to find out how hard athletes work for their rewards: "They're never there to see the sweat, tears and toil".
By "people", Christie undoubtedly means the media, with whom he has had a turbulent relationship. "I've never invented myself as a made-for-TV, made-for-media character", he says.
"Okay, I may be no Father Teresa, but I've never pretended to be what I wasn't - and that may have got some people's backs up over the years".
Christie is his country's most-bemedalled athlete and the website of his sports management consultancy, Nuff Respect, goes further, proclaiming he is "Britain's greatest-ever athlete".
An assertion that might be disputed by the thrilling memory of Coe in full flow, but questioned, too, by the unease, the uncertainty, over the drugs ban that seems to have indelibly stained his proud reputation.
The ban, just completed, has cost Christie financially, with sponsors shying away and the BBC dropping him from their Sydney Olympics commentary team. Whether he will front the next series of the children's television programme that became "Linford's Record Breakers", has apparently still to be determined.
But then, many people have trouble making their minds up about Linford Christie. The former British team coach, Malcolm Arnold, who this week labelled Christie and Coe as "ego-maniacs", has described Christie in the past as "one of the nicest men I've met; kind, compassionate, available to any athlete".
And the coaching expertise and inspiration he has devoted to athletes at the Linford Christie Stadium in the shadow of Wormwood Scrubs prison in West London brought its rewards at the Sydney Olympics.
When Katharine Merry and Darren Campbell won medals, Christie said it meant more to him than his own Olympic gold.
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