Rhys Williams shows pride of Lions in beating Felix Sanchez
Sunday 30 June 2013
It just so happened that the first person Rhys Williams encountered as he left the track in the Alexander Stadium yesterday was wearing an old-style cotton British & Irish Lions jersey. "Nice shirt," the resurgent 400m hurdler said, fresh from taking the scalps of the reigning world-title holder (his Welsh compatriot Dai Greene) and Olympic champion (Felix Sanchez) as runner-up to London 2012 silver medallist Javier Culson in the Sainsbury's British Grand Prix. The 29-year-old should know. His celebrated father wore one with distinction.
Indeed, unlike the current pride of Lions Down Under, J J Williams knows what it is like to close out a series.
The flying Welsh winger, a sprinter for his country at the 1970 Commonwealth Games, scored four Test tries for Willie John McBride's "Invincibles" in Springbok country in 1974.
"Without my dad I wouldn't be in the best shape I've ever been in," J J's son acknowledged. "When I came off Lottery funding last year it was quite difficult. I wouldn't have been able to keep going if it hadn't been for my dad finding me sponsorship and a part-time job with an orthopaedic company."
When he put his foot down in the home straight yesterday, Williams could not quite catch Culson, the Puerto Rican finishing a clear winner in 48.59sec.
Still, the Bridgend boy managed to hold off Michael Tinsley, the Olympic silver medallist from the United States, for second place in 48.93, just 0.03 outside the lifetime best he set in Loughborough in May. Further back in his slipstream were Greene (fifth in 49.55) and Sanchez (seventh in 49.68).
"That's a few more ticks in the boxes," Williams said. "It's also the first time I've ever got any points in the Diamond League, so things are definitely going in the right direction. That was basically the World Championship final field out there."
It was a mightily impressive performance by Williams Jnr, who won European Championship silver as a first-year senior in 2006 but who has fallen into Greene's shadow over the past four years. This was Greene's first loss to a fellow Briton since 2008 and his first defeat against Williams since 2006.
"I just didn't feel like myself," the clearly out-of-sorts Greene said. "It's a bit worrying and disappointing. I'll go back to the drawing board, chat to my coach and speak to the doctors, just to make sure I'm not suffering from a virus."
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