Brendan Foster has chosen Linford Christie’s 60th birthday to recall the day he talked Britain’s greatest sprinter out of quitting before he had made a name for himself.
History remembers the Jamaican-born Londoner as the first man in history to hold the Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth titles over 100 metres.
A career brought to an end by a drugs ban long after he had finished seriously competing, featured a remarkable haul of 24 medals and a British record which stands to this day.
Yet Foster says none of that would have happened had Christie made good on his pledge to leave the sport after finishing fourth in Tokyo at the 1991 world championships.
“Linford was obviously upset,” said Foster, Olympic medalist turned Voice of BBC athletics. “He’d just run faster than he ever had before and finished outside the medals.
"It was my job to interview him after the race and he literally said: ‘Well that’s it, I’m finished. I’m 31 and that’s the last race I’ll ever run’.
"He started to walk away. In front of my eyes this brilliant athlete was announcing his retirement. Quick as a flash I was like, ‘Linford, hey, hang on a minute’. I grabbed hold of him and brought him back.
“I said, ‘You can’t just retire like that, you’ve just clocked 9.92. You can’t chuck it all in because you’re disappointed. That’s not you’.”
Foster’s powers of persuasions won the day and 12 months later Christie powered to Olympic gold in Barcelona, adding the world title in Stuttgart the following year.
To this day Foster considers the sprinter to be “one of the greats”, even if he is unable to make sense of the positive test for nandrolone in 1999 following a low-key indoor race in Germany that Christie only ran to win a bet with athletes he was coaching.
Others are less comfortable with such a conclusion given the athlete's urine sample contained almost 100 times the legal limit of nandrolone metabolites and that the British Olympic Association banned him for life.
But Christie has always maintained his innocence and Kath Merry, whom he coached to Olympic 400m bronze in Sydney the following year, has his back.
“I believe in what Linford did on the track and I believe in what he did off the track,” she said. “Some will say I’m blinded by loyalty. Not really. It’s what I actually think.
“Of course the ban has clouded his legacy in the minds of some people. Anybody that doesn’t think it has would be wrong. You say Linford’s name to people and opinion is divided.
“But I’ve known Linford since I was 13 and his career was stellar in my opinion. My genuine love for him hasn’t changed over the years. He is a special, generous person and always will be to me.
“What's more he’s gone on to do what a lot of high performing ex-sports people haven’t and coach. And for no other reason than he loves it.”
Christie has remained an establishment outsider since his ban yet when he returned to Barcelona as a coach with his athletes for the 2010 Europeans it was he who was asked to give the eve-of-champs British team talk.
“Really inspiring,” was how team captain Jess Ennis-Hill reacted at the time. A decade on he is no less of an enigma.
* A former athlete has raised almost £25,000 for the NHS by running a marathon in his six-metre long garden – in just five hours five minutes.
James Campbell, still the Scottish javelin record holder, decided to turn his lockdown boredom at home in Cheltenham to a positive use.
Running from one end to the other 7,000 times the 31-year-old spent his birthday racking up 26.2 miles and flying past his initial goal of £10,000.
Sir Geoff Hurst and Olympic champion Jess Ennis-Hill were among a host of celebrities to tweet their support.
“I’m absolutely blown away by the reaction,” said Campbell. “My athletics career didn’t really end as planned. This tops that by quite a way.”
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