Press Centre

Sports Life Stories

  • Episode: 

    5 of 8

  • Title: 

    Linford Christie
  • Transmission (TX): 

    Tue 24 Mar 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.00pm - 11.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 13 2015 : Sat 21 Mar - Fri 27 Mar
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 17 March 2015.
Episode 4 - Linford Christie
“I’m one of the few people who never talks about world records, never interested me at all. Records are made to be broken. Medals stay with you forever.” - Linford Christie
In the fifth episode of this new series, one of Britain’s fastest ever sprinters Linford Christie talks to John Rawling about his journey from growing up in Jamaica to winning gold at the Olympics in 1992.
With contributions from fellow athletes Katharine Merry and Jonathan Edwards as well as journalists Jim Rosenthal and Neil Wilson and his coach Ron Roddan, Sports Life Stories follows Linford’s career from the streets of West London to Seoul and his reprieve for testing positive for a banned substance in 1988, on to the high of winning the 100 metres in Barcelona four years later.
The programme also traces his often fractious relationship with the media, with the notorious ‘Linford’s Lunchbox’ headlines living long in the athlete’s memory. 
Linford came to London when he was seven in 1967 - and faced a tough time in school because he was black. He says: “That’s most probably why I learned to run. The guys would want to gang up on you, beat you up because I think there were maybe two or three black kids in the whole school while I was there.”
At the age of 19, he joined the London Irish athletics club. This is where he met coach Ron Roddan, who attempted to tame Linford’s party-loving spirit somewhat by telling him he could be a top athlete if he focused on his training. Ron says: “He could definitely run, there was no doubt about that, but anything else I wasn’t so sure about. We did have some problems with late nights at weekends and other things like that.”
Linford’s breakthrough came at the 1986 European Athletics Indoor Championships, where he won the 200m gold. He says: “It changed my life completely, because I thought, ‘If I can do this, then what else can happen?’ And I started realising that is the kind of work you have got to put in.”
From there he moved on to win the European Championships 100m title, then the World Championships title in Rome in 1987, and believed he was unstoppable. He says: “All these people claiming to be the fastest in the World, and how can they be the fastest if I’ve never raced them? And that’s how cocky I was. I thought, ‘You can’t be the fastest if you’ve never raced me.’”
At his first Olympics in Seoul, South Korea in 1988, he took on 1984 gold medallist Carl Lewis and challenger Ben Johnson, from Canada. After Johnson raced to gold, with Linford lying in third, he tested positive for anabolic steroids. Linford was called out of bed to give interviews to the British media about it - despite the fact he was preparing for the 200m final.
He says: “You know what I thought was funny about that? I still had to compete. The management woke me up to go out there and talk about it. I had to compete. But I suppose the breaking story of the Ben Johnson drugs scandal was more important.”
Later in the same games, Linford tested positive for the banned stimulant pseudo-ephedrine. The hearing panel gave him ‘the benefit of the doubt’, and no sanction was applied but suspicion still hung over him. Neil Wilson says: “He wasn’t targeted as one of the many drug takers but it fuelled everybody’s suspicions, and the way he was dealt with by the sports writers, athletics writers for most of the rest of his career was with a modicum of suspicion.”
At Barcelona in 1992, Carl Lewis failed to qualify for the USA, so Linford faced up to Leroy Burrell in the final and led the field home to a glorious gold medal. He says: “After the heats I knew I was going to win it. I knew I was the fastest guy to beat. He [Leroy] had the least experience. We got to the final and he false started. That’s nerves. I always got my best start in the final - I knew how to concentrate and when everyone’s doing their thing around [me] my focus was to try to get from A to B as quickly as possible.”
However, he says the expected feeling of elation at winning didn’t occur for him. He says: “When I crossed the line I was expecting this feeling of euphoria to take over, and it never happened. I was waiting for it to happen and I suppose I expected too much.”
While at the peak of his career, headlines about ‘Linford’s Lunchbox’ began to sour his relationship with the press. He says: “Had it not been the day after I won the Olympics then maybe I could have had a laugh about it. I took it personally, because I class that as being racist. And I just didn’t think it was a good message to send out.”
At the World Championships in Stuttgart in 1993, Linford faced up to Carl Lewis again, determined to prove he was number one despite his rival’s claims to the opposite. He romped home to gold in the 100m final, and says: “They always say the hotter the metal, the sweeter the victory. That was the toughest race I’ve ever been in. Of all the races I ran, that was my best race.”
At this point, Linford was the first man to hold all four major sprinting titles - the European and World Championships, Commonwealth and Olympic golds - and the Queen presented him with his OBE. His difficult relationship with the media came to a head when he appeared to quit on a late night TV show. But he made it to the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, where he was disqualified from the 100m final after two false starts. He says: “I got up and just realised, ‘I’m not having fun, not enjoying it any more.’ ...I just got fed up of the sacrifice.”
Linford became a coach to athletes including Katharine Merry, Christian Malcolm and Darren Campbell, and was encouraged by his charges to enter a one-off sprint race in Dortmund two years after his international retirement. There, he failed a drug test for nandrolone, and speaks of his shock when he got the call from an official at UK Athletics. He says: “I thought it was an April Fool. I said, ‘You’re joking,’ she said, ‘No, I’m serious.’ They said it was nandrolone… [I said] I need to be tested now. They tested me - nothing in my system. I didn’t know what nandrolone was.”
“We are not scientists, we make mistakes. But until the day I die I will plead my innocence because I know I didn’t do it. People will say, ‘He’s protesting his innocence too much,’ but what am I supposed to do?”
The lifetime Olympic ban that ensued - and a spat with organiser Sebastian Coe - meant that Linford played virtually no part in the London 2012 games. Jonathan Edwards says: “For Linford to miss out on being a part of London 2012 in his home city was very sad and I’m sure it’s something he wishes he could have been part of, because it was a celebration of sport that this country has never seen.”
Linford, meanwhile, is back at West London Stadium where he started, coaching youngsters with his mentor Ron Roddan, and the venue now bears his name. He says: “Hammersmith & Fulham gave me the freedom of the borough and then they named the stadium after me. That fills me with pride because I trained so many days at that track in the snow, I have cried on that track because training gets so hard. It’s nice.”
Series overview
Featuring top names from Olympic gold medalists to Champions League winners, the award-winning Sports Life Stories series focuses on the lives of iconic sporting figures.
Each of the eight episodes in this returning series tells the tale of a sporting legend, allowing each individual to open up about their careers and personal lives, and giving a vivid insight into how the impact of their achievements can reach into people's lives.
This series features:
Footballer Peter Shilton
Cyclist Chris Froome
Athlete Paula Radcliffe
Footballer Andy Cole
Athlete Linford Christie
Footballer John Barnes
Rugby player Jason Robinson
Boxer Carl Froch
Contributions from well-known friends and admirers illuminate the lives and work of the subjects and provide a close view into what drives them to succeed in their careers.