By Shreyas Sharma
"Cricket is a game, not a sport. You practice for a game. You train for a sport."
- Linford Christie, August 14, 2008, New Delhi.
For someone who represented the inventors of cricket in athletics, Linford Christie sure is opposed to the inclusion of the 'game' at the Olympics. The former 100m Olympic gold medalist (1992 Barcelona) and world champion is in India as the athletics expert for a TV channel, and believes that cricket cannot be classified as a 'sport'.
The 48-year old Briton was quick to add that he was aware of India's cricket-obsession, but strongly believes that the Olympics are all about individual prowess and team sports, including football, do not make sense to him as Olympic events. Christie also made a tongue-in-cheek remark about the Olympics being a non-paid event, possibly in reference to the amount of money in cricket today.
Christie was on the same Beijing-Delhi flight as India's newest sporting icon Abhinav Bindra, and was asked to wait inside the aircraft while the shooter got a hero's welcome. When asked about the gala reception that was awaiting Bindra's arrival, Christie said that it was not exclusive to Indians, and that it was perhaps ingrained in human nature.
Christie predicted an Olympic double (100m and 200m gold medals) for the current world record holder in 100m, Usain Bolt. He said that though Tyson Gay of the United States had recovered from a recent injury, it had come at the most inopportune moment for him, and the fight for the 100m glory would thus come down to the two Jamaicans, Bolt and Asafa Powell. But according to Christie, Bolt would have it easy in 200m.
Christie crowned Carl Lewis as 'the greatest sprinter' of all time and regardless of Michael Phelps' achievements, to Christie's mind, a track and field great would always be on a higher pedestal than a swimmer in the world of sports.
Jamaica-born Christie, who tested positive for a banned substance in 1999, maintains that he was innocent, and has moved on in life since then. However, his advice to up-and-coming athletes is pretty simple - there are no shortcuts to success and drugs would eventually make them pay. He also blamed the media for constantly putting the spotlight on dope-tainted athletes since it took the shine away from the clean athletes' achievements too.
Christie said it was unfortunate that Britain these days did not produce world-class athletes, but maintained that this was a transitory phase, and it would take time for new ideas to take root and produce results. Christie is admittedly not involved with the organisation of the 2012 London Olympics, but he said he would continue to train young British sprinters.
The oldest 100m winner at the Olympics did not understand the reason behind the failure to produce good athletes by a country of one billion plus. Citing the example of the Chinese hold over the Beijing Games medal tally, Christie said that China had done a better job in spotting talent and moulding them. The mantra for Olympic gold medals is simple according to Christie - find the talent and have good infrastructure to groom them for bigger things.
With the Commonwealth Games in 2010 fast approaching, Indian administrators have promised better infrastructural facilities. It is now time to spot the talent. And in Christie, India have a former world champ ready to help. Is Suresh Kalmadi around? No, he is in Beijing.