Rimmer shows class needed to end 800m wait

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The golden hand of opportunity would appear to be beckoning Michael Rimmer, inviting the Merseysider to close a 20-year gap back to the last British winner of the men's 800m at the European Championships. The 24-year-old Briton was not the fastest man in the first-round heats yesterday morning but he was the most impressive.

Wearing his trademark lucky white T-shirt under his Great Britain vest, Rimmer looked like he hardly broke sweat in the stifling heat – even when he found himself boxed in down the back straight on the second of the two circuits of the Montjuic Stadium. He simply bided his time and then, when the chink of a gap appeared at the head of the home straight, eased his way through it and sprinted to a decisive victory, clocking 1min 49.99sec.

It was a highly assured performance, suggesting the pride of Liverpool Pembroke and Sefton Harriers could take some beating if he negotiates his way through the semi-final tonight into the final, which is scheduled for Saturday evening. With Yuriy Borzakovskiy, the 2004 Olympic champion from Russia, and Dutchman Bram Som, the 2006 European champion, both absent because of injury, Rimmer looks like he has a more than fair chance of becoming the first British winner of the continental crown since Scotland's Tom McKean took gold ahead of Jarrow's David Sharpe in Split in 1990.

"I don't know about being the favourite," the Southport man said. "I'd like to think I've got a medal chance. Maybe the underdog." Not in the opinion of William Hill. A week ago Rimmer was the 5-1 third favourite. He's now the 11-10 favourite ahead of Poland's Marcin Lewandowski, the fastest European at the distance this year and winner of the opening heat yesterday. "We've lost two of the big guys but it's still going to be tough," Rimmer continued. "I have nothing to lose. I'll be giving it absolutely everything."

Dai Greene could hardly be a clearer favourite to win the 400m hurdles – 4-1 on – and the Swansea Harrier looked a class apart in his first-round heat yesterday, slowing to a jog after the final hurdle but still winning comfortably in 50.11sec. The one-time Swansea City youth-team footballer has run the five fastest times in Europe this summer but shrugged off the burden of expectation. "It doesn't worry me," Greene said. "I know if I execute the race correctly, the gold is there for me, but I'm not taking anything for granted."

It remains to be seen whether there will be a British one-two in the final, to match that from the 10,000m on Tuesday night, but Rhys Williams was looking good too yesterday. Greene's British team-mate, training partner and fellow Welshman strode confidently past Periklis Iakovakis of Greece in the final 30m to win his heat in 49.35sec. Hampered by injury since winning the bronze medal at the last European Championships, in Gothenburg four years ago, the son of former Wales and British Lions wing J J Williams could well find himself back on the podium here.