Life After Sport: Linford Christie

4 February 2015 | Posted in Quick-Fire Questions | By Michael Long | Contact the author

Life After Sport: Linford Christie

Then: Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth 100m champion
Now: Athletics coach, philanthopist, co-founder of Street Athletics

With 24 major championship medals to his name, including 100m titles at the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games, Linford Christie is the most decorated British male athlete in history. Having hung up his spikes in 1997, the 54-year-old now spends his time coaching and managing young athletes whilst running Street Athletics, a series of community events he co-founded in 2005 alongside fellow sprinter Darren Campbell.

SportsPro: How did you find the transition away from competing?

LC: For me, the transition wasn’t too bad to be honest with you because I was always prepared for it. I knew that one day it would happen. Everybody gets old and everything else and you’ve got to prepare your pension and for life after that. I started a sports management company [Nuff Respect] with Sue [Barrett], my agent, in preparation. Also, you don’t know when your career is going to come to an end because athletics is such a funny thing. You get an injury, it puts you out – and its not just athletics; that is the same across all sports. That was my preparation because I knew it was going to happen.

What are you trying to achieve with your management company?

Originally it was started to look after myself and a friend of mine, Colin Jackson, to look after our interests. The hope was that we would work in it but unfortunately we athletes sometimes make a big mistake. We believe that because we’re good athletes that means we’re good business people; we’re good at everything. But it didn’t work out that way. So again, I’ve got Sue and she runs the business. As for me, I was able to have some input but then moved on to coaching and everything else. It gave me that freedom to pursue other things.

Was there anything you learnt as an athlete that could be applied to business?

The discipline, I suppose. You realise that you have to be at training a certain time. When you get to a race, you have to be prepared. It teaches you that and it teaches you that if you are going to do something, you have to do it to the best of your ability.

"We athletes sometimes make a big mistake; we believe that because we’re good athletes that means we’re good business people."

What advice would you give to an athlete approaching the end of their career?

Well, it’s going to come. My dad has a great saying. He says, ‘The young may die but the old must’. And I really do believe that. So you have to have something in place. The other thing that I put in place is I started Street Athletics, which is working with youngsters. There are always going to be youngsters so we went out there and we try to give youngsters an opportunity to take part in sport. We try to engage them in sport. So go out there and find something that you can do also similar to that to keep you going. One of the biggest problems that we have as athletes is that everything is done for you, especially if you’re a good one. You have an agent, the team is organised – all you’ve got to do is bring your passport and turn up. When you stop, then you have to do that yourself. If you decide to become an agent or a manager or whatever, you then have to do that for other people. That’s the biggest thing. Rather than you being at the top rung of the ladder, you are now down the bottom because you have to look after other people. That is one of the things that athletes find hard. So you’ve got to find something that helps you, something that you’re good at and something that is going to keep your interest. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication to become an athlete but you need to find something that will replace that, replace that obsessive nature that we all have and everything else. If it’s not the right thing, you will just keep searching.

Did your generation ever receive advice or professional training to prepare you for retirement?

We didn’t. Now I’m coaching, I can see that a lot of my athletes are all doing personal coaching training and all this kind of stuff. It’s totally different. The athletes of my generation, everybody thought they would get to work in television. They thought, ‘this is the way we’re going to go’. But there is only so much of these things. I try to encourage people now to get an education, regardless. It’s great that you can be a good athlete but it will come to an end and if you have nothing to fall back on, it’s going to be a problem. I think it’s a big problem with male athletes because they get good earlier, so because of that a lot of them then quit education. They go into sport because they feel they can make money. Whereas a lot of the female athletes, because they develop a lot later, they then go to university and they get a degree and they get jobs. They have a lot more experience than the male side of things when they finish. So we have to push the men, say, ‘look, this is what you’ve got to do. Get a certificate in something because you are going to need it later on!’

"I don’t want to sound negative to our sport, but I think it is one of the few jobs where the wages have gone backwards."

Looking back on your career, what do you miss most about competing?

I miss the competition itself – I mean, I really do miss the races. I don’t miss the training as much! I do a little bit and people say ‘oh you train really hard’ but that is not hard. I don’t miss having to push my body every single day to the limits – you know, eat, drink, sleep track and field. I really don’t miss that. But I would love to be able to just go out there and race. But unfortunately you can’t do one without the other; the mind is always willing but the body isn’t always able.

What’s the fondest memory of your career?

The highlight competition-wise? I think I enjoyed being world champion because I ran my fastest times and everything else. It was a closer race and it gave me great pleasure. I was just saying to my agent the other day, I’m glad I won the Olympics but previously I never thought that. It means a lot more to a lot more people. People say ‘ok, you’re world champion’, but to be an Olympic champion means a lot more. And I suppose it’s not until you finish that you can take a step back and you can see that. You know, it’s a big thing! And I’m kind of glad I won it.

How would you describe your approach to off-track commitments like sponsor appearances and other engagements? You did your fair share…

I did, yes; I quite enjoyed it. Dare I say, and I don’t want to sound negative to our sport, but I think it is one of the few jobs where the wages have gone backwards. I did pretty well from the sport commercial-wise and everything else. I did so much and I don’t know many athletes who have done a lot more than I’ve done. Considering I’ve been out of the sport for 20 years or whatever. I’m still invited, I’m still doing things. Longevity is a big thing. We have athletes now who ran maybe one or two seasons and they finish. But I was around for ten years or more, so therefore they’ve got to capitalise on that. It’s not about just winning one or two races; it’s about trying to stay around and whilst you’re there, you make friends and meet people. You never know who you’re going to need later on. So I love that side of things and I enjoy doing it but for athletes now, the opportunity is not necessarily there anymore. Because also we have so many athletes, so many gold medallists, so many people doing different things. You can be a gold medallist now in tiddlywinks, you know, but you’re still a record holder of that.

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