Linford Christie OBE: ‘Powers-that-be haven’t told the truth about the drugs’

Jamaican-born British sprinter Linford Christie looks back on a stellar career, his desire to race Usain Bolt and what really happened with 'that' drug ban

I grew up in Jamaica with my two older sisters. I remember a lot about my early life there. I grew up in a loving home, with my grandmother looking after us. We were taught about respect. I loved my grandmother very much. She was firm, she was my first teacher. I left when I was seven but… you can take the man from the country but you can’t take the country from the man. I’ll always be Jamaican in my roots, as much as I feel very British now. Jamaicans are among the most creative people in the world, they just need more opportunities to show it. Of course I loved watching Usain Bolt run as a great Jamaican runner but I’m not going to lie, I also wished I could have competed against him running for Britain.

My father came to Britain first, then my mum, then we followed, me and my sisters. I had always been told by my grandmother that we’d be going to join my parents in Britain one day. We didn’t really know them. My father came to Britain to work, my mother was a nurse. They came here by invitation – the government was asking people from the Commonwealth to come and help make Britain great again. And those people, including my parents, came to make a better life.

I loved watching Usain Bolt run as a great Jamaican runner but I’m not going to lie, I also wished I could have competed against him running for Britain.

We had always been told the streets of England were paved with gold. ‘The houses are made of bricks and they have paper on the walls.’ We arrived at Gatwick Airport and it wasn’t quite what we expected. We didn’t see any trees! We moved to Loftus Road, home of QPR, at the edge of White City [in West London]. We had two rooms for the seven of us. But there were lots of things to do. We played a lot on the streets and in the little local park. It was summer when we arrived and playing outside was great. Until it snowed for the first time. We were excited when we saw it and we ran outside shouting ‘Snow snow snow!’ Then we picked it up and it was ‘Woah.’ Our fingers started to burn. That was a big shock.

I got racism from the first day I went to school. I was one of a very few black pupils. Kids are cruel. I didn’t realise I was black until someone told me. I told my parents, who said I would have to learn to ignore people and I’d just have to cope with it. Which I thought was great. They didn’t tell me to retaliate or hit anyone or behave in a bad way. But I was quite tough and I coped quite well. I had a few fights. I learned to run home very fast at the end of the school day. I think I owe those people something for my future success!

I didn’t know I could run until a teacher told me I was fast. There were a couple of girls at my school who could run faster. My father had always told me a good opportunity comes once in a lifetime. If you miss it, it never comes again. The strange thing was that I had several opportunities. I moved school a few times but there were always teachers or other athletes telling me I was a good runner, or could be. I wasn’t greatly interested but everyone else seemed to want me to do it. So I think I was destined to do it.

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I don’t regret that it took me a bit longer than some to come into the sport. I peaked when there was no one in the country as good as me, I was just out there by myself. The timing was perfect. When I won the European Indoor 200 metres [in 1986] I think I was in the second or third string. So no one was thinking I was anything special. When I won – the first Brit to ever do it – it made me feel, yeah, maybe I could really do something with this.

Linford Christie - Athletes - 1993 Proud Father: James Christie Congratulates His Son Linford After The Victory Over Carl Lewis Last Night. Linford Christie Is King Of The Sprinters. No Further Doubts And Nothing Left For Argument. The Best Sprinter
1993 With his dad James after beating big rival Carl Lewis in Gateshead

It would blow the 16-year-old me’s mind if he knew what was going to happen to him. Especially bearing in mind all the things that went wrong on the lead up; I kept getting injured. I know most athletes want to be an Olympic champion but I think for me winning the World Championships [in 1993] was way better. The chips were down, people were telling me I’d only won an Olympic gold [in 1992] before because they [Carl Lewis] weren’t there. After the Olympics I had to pick myself up and get myself ready again, defend my title. That’s what I’d tell my 16-year-old self about, and I’d say, when you’ve got to fight, and you keep working, nothing can hold you back.

I think having a great rivalry with someone makes you a better athlete because you know you can never relax. I didn’t like Carl Lewis at all at the time, but he was the number one guy. He was a great rival, someone I could set my sights on. He made me have to train hard, and when you do that you want to make your opponents pay. Because if they didn’t train so hard, you wouldn’t have to.

In terms of drug cheating, I could understand why [the International Association of Athletics Federation] would be hard on me if I’d done something wrong. [Christie was banned from competition for two years in 1999 when banned substance nandrolone was found in his blood sample. He was then banned for life by the British Olympic Association]. But I did nothing wrong. To this day the powers-that-be still haven’t told the public the truth about what happened. They’re still lying to the public, they know they did me wrong. But they have more power than me so what can I do? If they didn’t put it right during my career, why would they after I retired? My father always said if you point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at you. That’s what some of these people should think about. At the time I could have been broken by it, but I’m stronger than that. I wouldn’t have got to where I did and become what I became by being worried about what people said about me. As long as my conscience is clear, I can hold my head up high.

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'If I could have one last conversation with anyone it would be my grandmother'

If I could have one last conversation with anyone it would be my grandmother. Just because I miss her so much. When I was a kid I used to pray to God, take some years off me and give them to granny. I just wanted her to live forever. And we’d have a good conversation because I loved talking to her. She saw a bit of my success, not all of it. She died in 1985 so she just missed out on the glory days.

I think a lot of people think because I’m big and black I must be aggressive. The young athletes I work with, they tell me that people say, what’s Linford like? He must be scary. But people judge you like they judge themselves. They think if they were big and black they would be aggressive. Then they meet me and they’re like, ohhh, you’re not! When I’m away from the athletics field I’m the guy who’s always making jokes, laughing. My bark is worse than my bite. I’m just a funny guy who enjoys trying to help people.