Athletics: Rhys off to a flier as Lewis-Francis falls to earth

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The Independent Online

Ranked sixth fastest of the six starters, Williams proceeded to perform with assured distinction, hurdling crisply and finishing strongly in the home straight to hold on to third place behind Periklis Iakovakis of Greece and Louis van Zyl of South Africa. In doing so, in a time of 49.73sec, the Loughborough University sports science student advanced to the semi-finals - which is more than the hapless Mark Lewis-Francis managed in the 100m. It also happens to be more than Williams' celebrated father achieved on his introduction to major championship competition as an athlete.

Back in 1970, in the opening first round heat of the men's 100m at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, John Williams trailed in fifth in 10.6sec - some distance behind Haseley Crawford, the Trinidadian who went on to win the Olympic title at the distance in Montreal six years later. He fared better in the 200m, reaching the quarter-finals, and also ran the third leg for the Welsh team that finished fifth in the 4 x 100m relay final. The he hung up his spikes and revisited his first sporting love, rugby union.

As the flying winger JJ Williams (to distinguish himself from another John Williams, the swashbuckling full-back known as JPR), he made a name for himself in the great Welsh teams of the 1970s. He also distinguished himself as a British Lion, plundering six tries against South West Districts in South Africa in 1974, a record tally of which Shane Williams fell one short against Manawatu with the toothless Lions of 2005.

Rhys himself was a member of the Welsh under-18 rugby union squad, as a full-back-cum-centre, until he won a European youth title as a 400m hurdler four years ago and chose to concentrate on athletics. A European junior champion in 2001 and a winner at the European Under-23 Championships at Erfurt in Germany last month, he has dipped under the 50sec barrier this summer and emerged as a likely successor to Chris Rawlinson - one of his training partners at Loughborough - as Britain's standard-bearer in the one-lap hurdles. "I've got to be happy with that," he reflected in the wake of his fine effort yesterday. "I was going to have to run out of my skin to achieve anything out here. I did make a few mistakes, though, and I can't afford to do that in the next round. My dad is here in the stands somewhere. He follows me around everywhere. I've got to keep him happy."

At 21, the junior Williams is just breaking into the senior international ranks. At 22, Lewis-Francis is a young veteran on the world stage but has yet to make it to a senior global 100m final. Sadly for the beleaguered Birchfield Harrier, who received a public warning for a positive cannabis test earlier this year, he registered another failure here. Looking sluggish and heavy, he sneaked through the first round as one of the fastest losers, finishing fourth in his heat in 10.40sec, but exited at the quarter-final stage, clocking a pedestrian 10.53sec in fifth place. "I thought I was all right but obviously I'm not," he said, citing the recurrence of a hamstring problem.

In contrast to their labouring team-mate, Jason Gardener and Marlon Devonish both made it through to the semi-finals, the former finishing third in his quarter-final in 10.31sec and the latter fifth in his race in 10.20sec. In the men's 1500m, Mike East also progressed to the penultimate stage, taking fifth in a brisk opening heat in 3min 36.84sec. The Commonwealth champion will be the sole British representative in the semis, Nick McCormick having gone from 12th to third and back to 11th in the last two laps of a tactical second heat. The Morpeth Harrier crossed the line second last in 3min 44.40sec, a big disappointment in the midst of a highly promising debut season at international level.

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