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 tonight's semi-finals. He also happened to surpass what his 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 quartet who finished fifth in the 4 x 100m relay.
It was to be Rhys' father's first and last taste of major championship action as a sprinter. He subsequently revisited his first sporting love, rugby union, and as JJ Williams (to distinguish himself from another John Williams, the swashbuckling full-back known as JPR) made a name for himself as a flying wing in the golden Welsh era of the 1970s. He also distinguished himself as a 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, before he won a European youth title as a 400m hurdler four years ago and chose to concentrate on track and field. 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 to successor to the soon-to-be-retired Chris Rawlinson - one of his training partners at Loughborough - as Great Britain's international standard-bearer in the one-lap hurdles.
The competitiveness he showed yesterday bodes well. "I've got to be happy," Williams said. "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 compete. I've got to keep him happy."
At 21, Williams is just breaking into the senior international ranks. At 22, Mark Lewis-Francis is a young veteran on the world stage but has yet to make it to a senior global 100m final. The Birchfield Harrier hardly made a promising start in his attempt to do so here. Sluggish out of his blocks and looking on the heavy side, he struggled to fourth place in his first-round heat in 10.40sec - 0.24sec behind Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. Then followed a nervous wait before the young Midlander sneaked through to the quarter-finals as one the fastest losers - joining his British team-mates Jason Gardener and Marlon Devonish, who were comfortable winners of their heats in 10.19sec and 10.25sec respectively.
For Lewis-Francis, it was a temporary stay of execution. In his quarter-final later in the day, the young man with the double-barrelled name was once again short of fire-power. While Gatlin blasted to victory in 10.27sec, the Briton trailed home fifth in 10.53sec. "I thought I was all right but obviously I'm not," he said, blaming his exit on the recurrence of a long-term hamstring problem. Gardener, though, made sure of a British presence in the semi-final, finishing third in his race in 10.31sec. Devonish, fifth in his quarter-final in 10.20sec, also made it through, as one of the fastest losers.
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