Christie, Linforcl 1960–
Linforcl Christie 1960–
Linford Christie proved that world-class sprinting is not reserved only for young athletes by becoming number one in the 100-meter dash after age 30. He was the oldest man in history to win an Olympic gold medal, which he earned at Barcelona in 1992. More than 6’2” tall and weighing 170 pounds, Christie has also defied the odds by having an amazingly fast start out of the blocks for a big man.
Ironically, Christie had contemplated quitting in 1991, following a heartbreaking loss in a major international meet; there he’d produced his personal best time. At the urging of 30-year-old Carl Lewis, who saw the drawing power of races between him and Christie as the “old men” of sprinting, Christie continued to compete and went on to record the greatest successes of his career. Christie followed up his Olympic victory with an impressive record of first places during subsequent seasons, and he maintained his reign as top sprinter by beating world-class runners such as Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell, Andre Cason, Jon Drummond, and Bruny Surin.
Perhaps no other top-level sprinter in history took as long as Linford Christie to realize his full potential as an athlete. His introduction to running came soon after his family emigrated from Jamaica to the Shepherds Bush section of West London, England, in 1967. At the age of eight, Christie ran his first race during a primary school’s spring event at White City Stadium, which had been the site of the 1908 Olympic games. Although Christie was not victorious, his performance showed promise and was noticed by a schoolteacher who recommended that Christie join up with a local track group. At this time Christie came under the tutelage of coach Ron Roddan, who became his close friend and continued to coach the athlete right into the 1990s.
By his own admission, Christie was hardly committed to an active training regimen as a youth. He feels that the delay in his dedication may have actually helped his career in the long run. “I was an avid partygoer, often coming home with the milk deliveries, and a devotee of rum and blackcurrant,” he told Track & Field News. “But when I did start to take the sport more seriously, it meant I’d already done a lot of growing-up things before I was 24. Sometimes it’s an advantage to come into the sport more mature. You don’t feel you’ve somehow missed out on other things.”
Born April 2, I960, in St. Andrews, Jamaica.
Sprinter. Emigrated to London, England, 1967; ran first race, as a schoolboy, 1968; joined Thames Valley Harriers track club, late 1960s; began training with coach Ron Roddan, late 1960s; achieved first world ranking with fourth-best time in 100-meter dash (10.04 seconds), 1986; became oldest man to win 100-meter dash at Olympics, 1992; beat Carl Lewis in major invitational 100-meter race, Gateshead, England, 1993; ran fastest 100-meter dash (9.87 seconds) in world, 1993.
Awards: Gold Medal, European Track and Field Championships, 100-meter dash, 1986, 1990; Bronze Medal, 100-meter dash, World Track and Field Championships, 1987; Gold Medal, Europe Cup, 200-meter dash, 1987; Gold Medal, Europe Cup, 100-meter dash, 1987, 1989, 1991; Silver Medal, 100-meter dash, Olympics, 1988; Gold Medal, 100-meter dash, World Cup, 1989, 1992; Gold Medal, Commonwealth Games, 100-meter dash, 1990; Bronze Medal, European Track and Field Championships, 200-meter dash, 1990; Silver Medal, World Cup, 200-meter dash, 1992; Gold Medal, 100-meter dash, Olympics, 1992; Gold Medal, 100-meter dash, World Track and Field Championships, 1993. Named number one in the world in 100-meter dash by Track & Field News, 1992, 1993.
Christie first broke the 11-second barrier for the 100-meter dash at age 17, and by age 22 had achieved a best of 10.50 seconds. His times in his early twenties made him a frequent winner in races in Great Britain, but on the world stage he had yet to reach a level where he was much of a threat to win big meets. Age 24 turned out to be a pivotal year for Christie in terms of his motivation. That year Roddan made it clear that he was fed up with Christie’s lack of willingness to fully develop his potential, and he told him that he should either begin training harder or hang up his spikes. Meanwhile, Christie received a letter from Andy Norman, Great Britain’s top track and field promoter, stating that the sprinter had the potential to be the number one sprinter in Europe.
Buoyed by Norman’s show of confidence, while also shaken up by Roddan’s ultimatum, Christie began training with a new resolve. He got more sleep, worked out more intensely, and stopped drinking any alcohol. The fruits of his labors came in 1986, when as Norman had predicted, he became the European champion in the 100 meters. His best time dropped from 10.42 in 1985, to 10.04 in 1986. His 1986 best was the fourth fastest time in the world that year. The following year he moved up to third best with a personal record of 10.03, and once again was the top sprinter in Europe. He also made his mark beyond the continent by finishing third in the 1987 World Track and Field Championships in Rome.
Christie’s development still left him eating the dust of such noted runners of the time as Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis. By the late 1980s, Christie focused all his attention on the upcoming Olympics, to be held in 1988, in Seoul, Korea. Lewis had won four gold medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, while Christie had not even been picked as a reserve for the 400-meter relay team that year. Taking third behind Johnson and Lewis in the Olympic final, Christie then was upgraded to second when Johnson was disqualified due to testing positive for steroid use. Christie’s performance at Seoul and his personal best of 9.97 seconds in 1988, planted a burning desire in him for an Olympic gold. As soon as the 1988 Olympics were over he set his sights on the next games to take place four years later in Barcelona, Spain.
While Christie continued to dominate the European scene in sprinting, he still could not break through the wall of Lewis and other perennial international winners during the early 1990s. He also condemned his own country for offering little support for sprinters in comparison to its promotion of distance running, Christie developed a hostile attitude towards the British press, claiming that they had treated him badly during his career. Reports that he was too late a bloomer to achieve ultimate greatness in his event made him even more determined to show that British runners could beat Americans in the speed department.
Despite running the 100-meter dash in 9.92, which was the best performance of his career up to that time, Christie had to settle for a fourth-place finish behind three Americans in the finals at the 1991 World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo, Japan. Now age 31 and feeling that he could not run any better, Christie was depressed by his loss and considered retiring from serious running. The encouragement of Lewis and others prompted Christie to go to Australia the following winter, where he was determined to train even harder.
Christie’s training boosted his confidence in 1992, and he arrived in Barcelona for the Olympic games feeling that he could definitely win this time. Christie was also chosen to be captain of the British team, a choice that was not universally embraced by the press because of the sprinter’s perceived abrasiveness. Sports Illustrated quoted one critic as remarking, “he [Christie] has a perfectly balanced temperament, with a chip on each shoulder.”
Helping to clear Christie’s Olympic path to victory was the absence of Carl Lewis, who had failed to make the U.S. team in the 100-meter dash even though he’d set a world record in the event one year earlier. But Christie was still not the favorite at Barcelona. Former world-record holder Leroy Burrell was picked to win, and Christie also faced stiff competition from the American Dennis Mitchell and Frankie Fredericks of Namibia. Burrell had beaten Christie definitively in the semifinals with an impressive 9.97-second time, and the stage was set for a showdown in the finals.
Controversy tainted the race when Burrell was charged with a false start that he later claimed should have been charged to Christie. With Burrell facing disqualification if he committed another false start, he was forced to be cautious. Then Mitchell false started in the next attempt, further agitating the sprinters, but Christie retained his cool. “The others were getting a bit ratty with false starts,” he was quoted as saying in Sports Illustrated.
The runners broke cleanly on the third attempt, with Fredericks getting out fastest. Christie claimed the lead at the 60-meter mark and held on to take the gold medal in 9.96 seconds, barely ahead of Frederick’s 10.02 posted time. According to Sports Illustrated, Christie said, “Apart from Carl Lewis, I think I’ve got the best second-half surge. So I used it.” Christie’s victory was only the third ever for British sprinters; Briton Allan Wells won the race in 1980, and Harold Abrahams achieved victory in 1924 during a race featured in the film, Chariots of Fire. Wells, at age 28, had also been the oldest Olympic champion before 32-year-old Christie shattered the age barrier.
Soon after his victory in Barcelona, Christie handed Burrell another loss at a major track meet in Berlin. He finished 1992 by earning a number-one ranking in the world at 100 meters from Track & Field News, at an age five years older than any other athlete so designated. Seeming to make the clock stand still, the 33-year-old Christie continued his domination in 1993, with an impressive record of 12 races against only three losses.
One of the biggest competitions of the year as well as one the most expensive races ever in Great Britain, was a long anticipated matchup between Christie and Lewis in August at an invitational meet in Gateshead, England. It had been two years since the athletes had raced against each other, and each athlete was paid $150,000 to appear in the meet. Lewis had been claiming that Christie had avoided racing against him, but Christie scoffed at the allegations.
Tremendous publicity preceded the meeting of the world’s great speed merchants, hyping the fact that Christie had so far been undefeated outdoors in 1993. Some reporters claimed that there was antagonism between Christie and Lewis, but Christie denied it. Arriving on a transatlantic flight only 24 hours before the meet, Lewis finished third behind winner Christie and second-place finisher Jon Drummond. According to Sports Illustrated, after the race Christie said, “People said I was too old since I was 26. Then I won [in Barcelona] at age 32. I am a winner.”
Christie was clearly the favorite at the 1993 World Track and Field Championships held in Stuttgart, Germany. While Burrell did not make the finals, Christie still had to face Lewis and the fast-starting Andre Cason, who was only 24 years old. “Andre’s times got me a bit nervous,” admitted Christie in Sports Illustrated. “But I have been in major championships before. Andre has not. I figured to call on that experience to be able to dig a bit deeper.” Executing a perfect start, Christie edged past Cason at 70 meters and increased his lead as he powered himself to victory.
Christie’s time of 9.87 seconds was the best in the world that year, and only .01 seconds off of Lewis’s world record. Many track experts consider Christie’s time even more impressive than Lewis’s record made in Tokyo, since the Stuttgart race was run on a softer track and with virtually no wind. It was the highlight of Christie’s greatest year, and he once again was named the world’s best in his event by Track & Field News.
Christie’s careful selection of meet appearances over the years may be one of the keys to his longevity. Rather than worry about getting world records, he was only concerned about running fast enough to win in the important races, saying that medals are forever and records come and go. No other sprinter has ever peaked at such a late age. “It’s [sprinting’s] not about aggression,” said Christie in Track & Field News in October of 1993. “It’s actually more about relaxation.” His ability to relax, refusal to worry about world records, and immense physical power have earned Christie a firm niche in the history of track and field.
Jet, November 21, 1992, p. 51.
New York Times, August 2, 1992, Section 8, p. 1.
Oakland Press, August 22, 1992; August 28, 1993.
Sports Illustrated, August 10, 1992, pp. 24, 29; August 9, 1993, pp. 32-33; August 23, 1993, p. 18.
Track & Field News, October 1992, pp. 12-13, 74; October 1993, pp. 14-15, 41; November 1993, pp. 8-9; January 1994, p. 18.