Greene ready to deal with home expectations after winning first British gold
For the Great Britain team, it was a Midas touch that had been six days in coming. In Daegu Stadium yesterday, Dai Greene succeeded where Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis had fallen so agonisingly short of expectation in the heat of World Championship battle.
The builder's son from the West Walian rugby union bastion of Llanelli – the former steel town that produced the twinkle-toed Phil Bennett and the mercurial Jonathan Davies – dug deep in the home straight in a gripping 400m hurdles final, turning his mettle into gold as he hauled himself from fifth into first. The shaven-headed Greene was still trailing Javier Culson at the last of the 10 barriers, before the momentum of his winning charge took him flying past the stunned Puerto Rican some 12m from the line.
It was an alchemic grandstand finish truly worthy of a world champion. "I've worked so hard for this," Greene said, with a Union Flag draped over his shoulders and his winning time – 48.26 seconds – on the trackside clock.
He was reflecting not just on his struggle to get to the front in the final 100m yesterday but on the many hurdles he has overcome to reach the top of the global sporting tree at the age of 25: the disappointment of failing to make the grade as a flying left-winger in football (despite scoring a penalty for Swansea City's youth team against the juniors of Real Madrid); the trials of being one of Britain's 500,000 epilepsy sufferers (he had a seizure when he was in Gothenburg making his debut for the Great Britain athletics team at the 2006 European Championships); and the frustration of his early years as a senior athlete being undermined by injury and underachievement (he failed to make the selection cut for the Beijing Olympics in 2008).
Hence all of the high-octane determination in the home straight yesterday – just when it looked like the gold medal was destined for Puerto Rico. "I was really working at that last hurdle," Greene said.
"I was thinking: 'I'm not letting this go. No one else is getting this. This is mine'. It hasn't really sunk in that I'm world champion. It's a dream come true. This has been my aim all season. I always believed I could win."
That belief was evident even when the Swansea Harrier struggled to get straight into the groove after the unsettling experience of two faulty starts. Greene has come a long way since he was so nervous he wet his pants on the start-line on sports day at Pen-y-gaer primary school. Under the direction of Malcolm Arnold, the coach who guided Colin Jackson to two World Championship gold medals in the 110m hurdles, he has matured into "a model athlete", as Van Commenee has described him.
Thanks to the Welshman's inspired victory and to Hannah England's unexpected silver in the 1500m yesterday, Van Commenee's charges are up into fourth in the medals table, with just two medals needed from the last three days of competition to hit the head coach's target of seven. Greene may well be back challenging for another medal today, as a member of the British team in a 4 x 400m relay final that will feature a South African quartet in whose ranks will be found Oscar Pistorius.
For the time being though, the pride of Llanelli is simply happy to have a World Championship gold to matching the winning prizes he earned last year at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games.
"I wouldn't change anything that happened to me in the past," Greene reflected. "I had a lot of injuries in 2006 and I was really struggling to make the squad. Now look at me. I'm a totally different athlete and have turned things around.
"I would never have been able to be world champion if I hadn't had those moments. I have worked hard to get here. That is why I can deal with the expectation – because I remember being back there."
The expectation now, of course, will be nothing less than a gold for Greene in the pressure cooker of the home Olympic Stadium next year. "I know I will have to deal with all of the expectation now ahead of London," he acknowledged.
"I've got three gold medals now from the last three championshipsand I want to complete the set next year."
Having set out in his sporting life wanting to be the next Ryan Giggs, Greene has become the new David Hemery – the first British man to win a global 400m hurdles title since Hemery's Olympic success in Mexico in 1968.
Still, his youthful dreams linger on. "I know the transfer window has closed," the newly-crowned world champion said, "but if Swansea need a new left winger I'm still available."
Pick of today's action
11.20am: Men's long jump final After Greg Rutherford's hamstring injury in the semi-final, British hopes now lie with European bronze medallist Chris Tomlinson. The Middlesbrough-born runner has been in excellent form this year, setting a new national record of 8.35m.
11.55am: Men's 200m semi-finals World record holder Usain Bolt returns to action, hoping to make amends for his disastrous showing in the 100 metres last weekend. From a British perspective, Christian Malcolm will be hoping to keep somewhere within the vicinity of the Jamaican phenomenon.
12.25pm: Women's 5,000m final The veteran Helen Clitheroe set a new personal best this year, but is unlikely to force her way past a strong African contingent, who are the only athletes in the field to have run under 15 minutes.
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