It was not quite the scenario that Dai Greene had envisaged. The Welshman who won the world championship 400m hurdles title with a grandstand finish in Daegu last summer had expected to advance into tonight's Olympic final with a confident statement of intent.
Instead, after failing to find his customary overdrive in the home straight in his semi-final on Saturday, the British track and field team captain had to endure a nervous 20 minutes.Greene feared he had blown his 2012 Olympic chance by finishing fourth – only the first two qualify as of right – and when he clasped his hands to his face and dropped to the ground, he looked a picture of utter despair.
There were two qualifying slots available for the fastest losers but Greene was lying second in line with two semi-finals still to be contested. He watched the first of them from the trackside television interview gantry, a look of resignation on his face.
He could breathe his first sigh of relief when the time for the third-placed finisher – Leford Green of Jamaica – flashed up on the scoreboard. It was 0.04sec slower than the 48.19sec Greene recorded in the first race, when he had been unable to get past Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic, pictured above, Jehue Gordon of Trinidad & Tobago and the American Kerron Clement in the final 100 metres.
There was still one semi to go but the third-placed finisher in that race, Brent Larue of Slovakia, crossed the line in 49.45sec. Greene had made the final, but only just.
It was of no immediate consolation to him. "Second fastest loser?" Greene said, spitting out the words with contempt. "That's no way to perform if you're world champion. I just feel like I've let everyone down, to be honest. I'm devastated. I should do better than that. I know I'm better than that. I'm running better than that in training. I just don't know what went wrong. I came off the bend too far down, with too much to do, off the pace a little bit. That's how it felt."
When it was suggested that the final presented "a chance to put it right," Greene replied: "Well see… I'll have to look back at this and work out what happened."
At the very least, Greene has a battle on his hands to restore his confidence before the gold, silver and bronze are on the line.
He has been unable to nail Javier Culson on the Diamond League circuit this summer but got close to him in Paris a month ago. The Puerto Rican has yet to lose in 2012 and will line up as the favourite this evening.
Greene may yet give him a run for the gold medal but on Saturday's evidence the world champion will struggle to get on the podium. Still, as Rhys Williams, his fellow Welshman, said after himself going out at the semi-final stage: "Who knows what Dai can do? Never write him off."
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