Greene becomes gold contender as 2012 hopes start to grow

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The Independent Online

Another day, another update of the record books by a British athlete. Last weekend it was Holly Bleasdale with a British pole vault record in Mannheim. On Friday it was Chris Tomlinson with a new national mark for the long jump. On Saturday it was Lawrence Okoye – the former rugby-playing "schoolboy Lomu", a try scorer at Twickenham last year – with a whopping great world class British discus record in sun-baked Hendon.



Last night, in front of a sell-out 12,500 crowd at the renovated Alexander Stadium, in a setting he described as "a mini version of a home Olympics", it was Dai Greene's turn to get in on the act. In driving rain at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix, the 25-year-old Welshman was never likely to threaten Kriss Akabusi's British 400 metre hurdles record of 47.82 seconds. In digging deep in the home-straight to hold off Bershawn Jackson, the former world champion from Miami who likes to be known as "Batman", Greene consigned the stadium record to history.

It was not just any stadium record, but one that has stood, at 48.21sec, since 1986 to Ed Moses, the silkily-smooth American all-time great of the one-lap hurdles, the Olympic champion of 1976 and 1984.

Greene was only born in 1986, a year before Moses' epic unbeaten run of nine years, nine months and nine days came to a close. "I've seen plenty of his races on video, though," the Swansea Harrier said after crossing the line in 48.20sec, 0.02sec clear of Jackson – with his emerging 19-year-old training partner and near-namesake, Jack Green, an excellent fourth in a lifetime best of 48.98sec.

"It's great to break a record held by Ed Moses," Greene continued, "and also to get a season's best in horrible conditions."

Like the 19-year-old Okoye – the Jonah Lomu-sized (6ft 6in, 20st) former rugby union left wing who won the English Schools' Cup as the star of Danny Cipriani's Croydon alma mater, Whitgift School, in March last year – Greene has a notable background notch from another sport. As a Ryan Giggs wannabe of a football left-winger, he scored a penalty for Swansea City in a pre-season youth tournament against Real Madrid.

As a 400m hurdler, the Llanelli native won the European and Commonwealth titles last year, and having won at the Diamond League meeting in Lausanne a fortnight ago and now having claimed the scalp of Jackson, the world number one in 2010, he has established himself as a contender not just for a medal but for the gold at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, next month.

"I have beaten everyone I need to beat now," he reflected. "I want to be competitive with these guys and I'm at the top at the moment."

Okoye himself is not far from the very top as a novice discus thrower. Competing at the Throws Fest meeting in north London on Saturday, the young Croydon Harrier unleashed a monster 67.63m effort. In doing so, he broke the world age-best for a 19-year-old and eclipsed Perris Wilkins' 13-year-old British record by 99cm. He also catapulted himself to third place in the world rankings, ahead of Gerd Kanter, the reigning world champion from Estonia.

"I knew that I had a big throw in me, but when I saw it was 67m I just went crazy," Okoye said. "It was pretty special, but it's all about hitting the big throws in championships."

Okoye has struggled for consistency this summer but has shown his huge potential under the guidance of the seasoned throws coach John Hillier, having given up a place in the London Irish academy and deferred a place at Oxford University to train as a full-time athlete.

Okoye is the third 19-year-old to break a British record this summer. Bleasdale did so with a stunning 4.70m pole vault clearance in Germany last week that propelled her to fourth in the world rankings. In the Birmingham rain last night, she endorsed her world class credentials, finishing runner-up to Germany's Silke Spiegelburg with 4.61m, but beating world indoor champion Fabiana Murer and European champion Svetlana Feofanova.

In all, there have been six British records so far this summer, and the sense of the home Olympians generating promising momentum a year out from the 2012 Games was clear to see in the men's 5,000m. Fresh from his tour de force of a national 10,000m record run in Eugene, Mo Farah burned off his rivals with a 54sec final lap in the 5,000m, prevailing in 13min 06.14sec.

There were also British victories for Phillips Idowu, with a 17.54m effort against an out-of-sorts Teddy Tamgho in the triple jump, and for Jenny Meadows, with a 2min 02.06sec clocking in the 800m. Amid the budding Brits, Asafa Powell knocked off a routine 100m win in 9.91sec. It was the Jamaican's 69th sub-10sec effort.

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