Greene vanquishes Welsh rival to prove himself the Real deal

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The cheers were loud enough when Dai Greene charged down the home straight in the Montjuic Olympic Stadium to win the South Walian battle for the European 400m hurdles title ahead of his training partner, Rhys Williams, on Saturday night.

The acclamation would have been a few decibels higher had the locals in the crowd been aware that the 24-year-old Llanelli man had scored a penalty against Real Madrid in a previous sporting incarnation.

"Yeah, it was in an Under-17s tournament in Spain involving Swansea, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Liverpool and one or two others," Greene recounted yesterday. "I was maybe 13 at the time and playing for the Swansea youth team.

"At the end of the game against Real Madrid they had a penalty shoot-out and I slotted one home. So at least I can say that I have scored against Real Madrid."

And run the 400m hurdles as fast as David Hemery did when he glided to Olympic gold. In securing the European crown in such emphatic fashion – clocking 48.12sec and finishing 0.84sec clear of Williams, who broke the 49-second mark for the first time – Greene matched the old world record set by Hemery in Mexico City back in 1968. He also showed the pedigree of a world-class act who could be challenging for a place on the London Olympic podium in 2012.

It might have been very different for the Swansea Harrier. In his childhood days he didn't want to be the next David Hemery or Kriss Akabusi (whose British record, 47.82sec, set while taking the bronze in the Barcelona Olympics in the same Montjuic Stadium in 1992, Greene now has in his sights). He wanted to be the next Ryan Giggs, despite hailing from Llanelli, a town where rugby union is the sporting religion.

"I loved football and I used to play on the left wing because I loved Ryan Giggs," Greene said. "I joined Swansea City when I was 10 or 11. They signed me up until I was 19 but I walked away when I was 17. I just wasn't enjoying it any more. I went to play for a local team. It wasn't until I went to university that I found athletics."

And took to the track like a former Swan to water. After winning European junior silver and European Under-23 gold, Greene was held back by injury until last summer, when he reached the final at the World Championships in Berlin, finishing seventh.

This summer he has continued on an upward curve under the astute guidance of Malcolm Arnold, the man who moulded Colin Jackson into a world record-breaking force in the 110m hurdles, and who coached John Akii-Bua when the Ugandan broke Hemery's 400m hurdles world record at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

With five non-Europeans ahead of him in the world rankings, Greene knows that he needs to take another step up in class to get among the medals at global level – at the World Championships next year in Daegu, South Korea, and in London in 2012. "I'll need to run under 48 seconds to win a medal," he said. "I feel I can go on and run a little bit faster yet this season. Malcolm's training programme is really good. I've felt myself getting faster every week of the season.

"Malcolm brings a steely determination to the training group in Bath. He's a no-nonsense sort of a guy..."

"Cheerful" someone suggested, tongue-in-cheek, as an alternative description of the earnest figure of the former British head coach.

"Yeah," Greene responded, "very smiley, smiley, Carol Smillie. He does smile sometimes. I'd like to think he smiled last night but I haven't had it confirmed yet."

Great Britain's Medal Haul

Gold (six)

Mo Farah: 10,000m, 5,000m

Andy Turner: 110m hurdles

Phillips Idowu: Triple jump

Dai Greene: 400m hurdles

Jessica Ennis: Heptathlon

Silver (seven)

Mark Lewis-Francis: 100m

Christian Malcolm: 200m

Michael Bingham: 400m

Chris Thompson: 10,000m

Michael Rimmer: 800m

Rhys Williams: 400m hurdles

Men's 4x400m relay

Bronze (six)

Martyn Rooney: 400m

Martyn Bernard: High jump

Jenny Meadows: 800m

Perri Shakes-Drayton: 400m hurdles

Chris Tomlinson: Long jump

Women's 4x400m relay