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Christopher back on top

13 March 2008
www.canada.com

By Dan Barnes

The look on his face was one of satisfaction, not joy, when Tyler Christopher added "world champion" to his resume.

And if there were 1,000 words to be gleaned from that picture of the Edmonton sprinter crossing the finish line first in Valencia, Spain, last week, most would be spent describing the result as sweet justice at the end of a difficult climb back to the upper echelon of his event.

"His expression at the finish line, I think, is this realization that, 'hey, I'm back. I'm where I was before. I'm probably ahead of where I was before.' Those are rare moments in your career," said his coach Kevin Tyler.

Christopher, who toted his world indoor championship gold medal in the 400 metres back to Edmonton Tuesday, concurs.

"That's just me knowing that all the confidence I had was right," said the 24-year-old. "From the time I got on the plane I had it in my mind I was going to come out with gold. I would be extremely disappointed with anything else."

Characterize the sentiment as over-confidence if you like, but athletes know themselves, their discipline and their competition intimately. Christopher was in top physical and mental shape. He knew the fastest American threats, Jeremy Wariner, Angelo Taylor and LaShawn Merritt, weren't in the field. In essence, he knew long before the gun went off that the gold was his. He had absolutely no intention of handing it over, especially to Chris Brown of the Bahamas, the man who relegated him to silver at the 2007 Pan Am Games after a controversial, bungled start.

So he ran 47 flat in the heats, 46.5 in the semis and a Canadian-record and world-leading 45.6 in the final, demonstrating astute event management. He came through the intense, three-day meet healthy and back on top of his game. It was reminiscent of the fitness and result he enjoyed when he won bronze at the 2005 worlds in Helsinki and erased the memory of a disappointing sixth-place finish at the worlds in Osaka last summer. And he made it abundantly clear he will be a contender for the Olympic podium in Beijing this summer.

"He definitely has a shot," said Tyler.

But he still won't be the favourite. Wariner is the reigning Olympic champ. He ran 43.45 last year, won the world championship and heads to Beijing as the man to beat. Rather than compete indoors in Spain, Wariner ran a sub-45 race in an outdoor meet in Melbourne, Australia.

"Jeremy is always the big challenge," said Christopher. "He's definitely the one to beat. Shoot, he's half a second ahead of everybody."

Christopher easily blends natural optimism with acquired realism and has enjoyed this victory for what it's worth.

Quite frankly, an indoor world championship pales in an Olympic year, though the $40,000 US first-prize money is always nice. The victory has led to increased media exposure at home and an immediate demand for his presence on the European-based Golden League track meet circuit.

But Christopher and his coach are sticking to the plan. On Wednesday, they turned down the first two Golden League events of June in order to maintain a 12-week training regimen here.

"As proud as we are of his result and as pleased as he is, he realizes what the objective is," said Tyler. "We're not about to get sidetracked for quick fame or a few dollars."

The objective is still months away, looming in the distance.

"I'm not too focused on that now," Christopher said of the Olympics. "You'd go crazy. I'm just taking in the world championship gold and taking a few days off and looking forward to my next training block."

He has relied on a competitive streak and benefitted from confidence since he was a kid, meaning he's well-positioned to face whatever challenges accompany this win. And he isn't afraid that the gold medal has transformed him into a bigger moving target than he was before crossing the finish line first.

"Everybody in the top eight obviously knows who I am. I've raced against them for many years. They probably think I'm a threat already. I've beaten all of them before," said Christopher.

All things considered, there seems no reason to worry about his ability to take on the extra obligations, opportunities and pressure inherent in a world championship title.

"Tyler has clearly shown that he approaches athletics in a true professional way. This alone makes me feel quite comfortable about Tyler for his final preparation leading to the Olympic Games. He understands the need to focus and be clear on what are the priorities," said Martin Goulet, chief high performance officer for Athletics Canada.

The priority is obvious and meaningful enough that Christopher is able to push away the distractions that might otherwise lure a 24-year-old from such a long-term goal.

"It's my job and I take it very seriously. I'm trying to make it as professional as possible," he said. "I could definitely enjoy it a lot more, but at the same time, will I perform the same way? Probably not. This ride only lasts so long."

On race day, it lasts less than 45 seconds. If you aren't ready, you have no right to expect anything but disappointment at the finish line. He'll be ready.



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And if there were 1,000 words to be gleaned from that picture of the Edmonton sprinter crossing the finish line first in Valencia, Spain, last week, most would be spent describing the result as sweet justice at the end of a difficult climb back to the upper echelon of his event.
"His expression at the finish line, I think, is this realization that, 'hey, I'm back. I'm where I was before. I'm probably ahead of where I was before.' Those are rare moments in your career," said his coach Kevin Tyler.
Christopher, who toted his world indoor championship gold medal in the 400 metres back to Edmonton Tuesday, concurs.
"That's just me knowing that all the confidence I had was right," said the 24-year-old. "From the time I got on the plane I had it in my mind I was going to come out with gold. I would be extremely disappointed with anything else."" target="digg"> Digg



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