It was not long after Dai Greene had become the European 400m hurdles champion in emphatic fashion in Barcelona that the Swansea Harrier looked ahead to the challenge of closing the gap on the global elite of his event. "I'll need to run under 48 seconds to win a medal," he said, turning his attention to the World Championships in Daegu next year and to the Olympic Games on home ground in 2012.
Five weeks on, Greene smashed through the 48 seconds barrier for the first time on the opening day of the IAAF Continental Cup in Split yesterday. In doing so, the Llanelli athlete came within a whisker of Kriss Akabusi's 18-year-old British record, clocked the fastest time in the quadrennial team competition since the great Ed Moses, and beat some of the latter day best in the world. In a global context, it was a quantum leap of a performance.
In Barcelona, Greene, 24, took the gold medal ahead of his fellow-Welshman and training partner Rhys Williams in a lifetime best of 48.12sec, matching David Hemery's winning time from the Mexico Olympics in 1968. Yesterday, representing Europe in the competition formerly known as the World Cup, he took another step up in class. Greene snatched a dramatic victory in the last 20m, after Bershawn Jackson of the USA messed up at the final hurdle.
His winning time, 47.88sec, was just 0.06sec shy of the British record Akabusi set when claiming Olympic bronze in Barcelona in 1992. It was also the fastest time in the competition since Moses won in Rome in 1981 in 47.37sec and the first win by a Briton in the men's 400m hurdles. Jon Ridgeon finished runner-up in Havana in 1992, while Akabusi (Barcelona 1989) and Chris Rawlinson (Madrid 2002) both claimed third places.
"I've been fighting for a time like that all season, and it came when I least expected it to," Greene said. "If anything, my training has been getting even better since Barcelona."
In second and third behind Greene were the men who filled the same positions behind the victorious Kerron Clement of the USA at the World Championships in Berlin last summer. The Puerto Rican Javier Culson finished runner-up in 48.08sec and Jackson was third in 48.62sec. Jackson heads the world rankings for the 400m hurdles this year, with 47.32sec, and lined up with an unbeaten streak of six races behind him.
Greene's British team-mate Michael Bingham finished third in the 400m yesterday, clocking a season's best of 44.84sec. Mark Lewis-Francis finished third in the 100m in 10.16sec, a season's best for him, in a race won by Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre in 10.08sec. Martyn Bernard was third in the high jump, clearing 2.25m.