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Christie Refuses to Leave Track

July 28, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ His final Olympic Games were ending in unimaginable agony, and Linford Christie refused to leave the track.

The man who was once the world’s fastest human suddenly was the world’s most frustrated human.

This was not the kind of Olympic history that the 36-year-old British sprinter had in mind. On a crazy Saturday night, the defending gold medalist became the first runner ever disqualified from an Olympic 100 final for false starts.

``It’s a shame to go out that way,″ he said. ``I’m just sorry for the people of Britain. If it was anywhere else other than the USA, I’m sure I would have been in there.″

After winning the 100 meters in Barcelona at age 32, he stood stone-faced at the starting blocks in Atlanta among what many believed was the finest 100-meter field in Olympic history.

But then things began to go terribly wrong. He was called for a false start. No problem. That’s happened before.

They got in the blocks again, started and got at least 20 meters down the track when the gun went off. This time Ato Boldon had broken early.

They took off a third time, and the gun went off ominously. Christie had done it again. He was out of the competition.

He walked to the judges and stared at the replay, then refused to leave.

``He was really upset,″ said silver medalist Frankie Fredericks. ``He trained for this day. To get two false starts was obviously upsetting for him. As his training partner and friend, I think that’s why he refused to go off the track.″

John Chaplin, former track coach at Washington State University and the running referee, finally went to Christie and showed him a red card, then ordered him to leave.

``It’s quite straightforward,″ Chaplin said. ``There were two false starts. The referees asked Linford to go. He stood there and didn’t go. They did what they should do under the rules. They called the referee. I simply walked up and showed him a red card and I explained very politely `You have two false starts and you have to leave.″

Christie did so, ripping off his jersey and tossing his shoes in the garbage can on the way out.

``I am smiling now,″ he said in a brief interview, ``but inside I am hurt.′

Ironically, Christie was the victim of a rule he had pushed for five years ago: to automatically call a false start if a runner leaves the starting blocks less than one-tenth of a second after the gun sounds.

When Saturday’s race finally was run, seven minutes behind schedule, Donovan Bailey had the world record, Fredericks had the silver and Boldon the bronze.

A frustrated Dennis Mitchell of the United States was fourth.

``That,″ Mitchell said, ``was the most unprofessional race I have ever been in.″

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