For the last few days Dai Greene has said to himself, “If I didn’t have any bad luck, I’d have no luck at all”, in an effort to lift his spirits.
The defending 400 metres world champion has every reason to feel glum and, such has been the Welshman’s plight in recent weeks, he could be forgiven for thinking he is cursed. First, there was the calf tear that emerged after the trials for these World Championships and then on Friday he was laid low by a fever, having just hurdled for the first time since his injury.
Added to his double hernia surgery in the spring, it has been the equivalent of an athletics annus horribilis for the 2011 world champion.
He knew he would be off his best in yesterday’s opening round, and the reality was he was just that, struggling to fifth in his heat and only qualifying by right of being a fastest loser. In stark contrast, his British team-mate Perri Shakes-Drayton sailed into the semi-finals with the quickest time of all the 16 qualifiers.
It cements Shakes-Drayton’s credentials as a gold-medal contender although the form athlete of 2013, Zuzana Hejnova, had an easier heat and could, as a result, run comfortably within herself. In contrast to that pair, Greene’s hopes of gold are almost certainly gone now, a medal far- fetched and a place in the final a hard ask unless his powers of recovery really are superhuman.
Clearly, his energy levels are low following his illness and quite what he has in reserve for today’s semi-final and, should he get there, final, is unclear, even for the athlete himself, who cut a dishevelled figure at the side of the track afterwards.
“If I feel like this tomorrow then, realistically, I’ll have no chance of getting a medal,” was Greene’s frank assessment. “It’s been a nightmare few days to be honest so we were wondering if I’d be good enough to run today. We didn’t know what I was capable of. Obviously we’ve got the answer and it’s not the kind of answer we like. But hopefully I’ll be a bit better tomorrow. I’ve had this situation before when you do one race and then feel a lot better the next day as a result of it. Fingers crossed I can rest up enough and put in a better performance.”
All six of the British athletes in the heats of the 400m hurdles qualified for today’s semi-finals, Shakes-Drayton comfortably the standout. Her technique can never be described as particularly sleek but her flat speed allied to her competitive nature still makes her a formidable force.
After her injury setback before last year’s Olympics, which led to her missing the final, she was understandably anxious taking to the start line for her World Championship heat. “It was a relief,” she admitted. “I’m through without anything happening. I knew I was more than capable of making it through but it’s just pure relief.”
Katarina Johnson-Thompson has been tipped as the next Jessica Ennis-Hill of British athletics and that may well prove to be the case. But the 20-year-old from Liverpool is still some way off the major medals. She enjoyed a promising start on day one of competition as she came within a whisker of her personal best in the 100m hurdles but was disappointed after clearing just 1.83metres in the subsequent high jump. The major weakness currently is Johnson-Thompson’s throwing events and her shot put saw her stumble well down the order with a solitary legal throw of 11.52metres. She recovered with a personal best of 22.37sec in the 200m to end the day sixth overall with 3739 points, 173 behind leader Ganna Melnichenko, of Ukraine.
Of the other British contenders yesterday, Brett Morse failed to qualify for the discus final while Nigel Levine and Asha Philip bowed out in the semi-finals of the 400m and 100m respectively. Will Sharman took fifth place in the 110m hurdles.
6.30am BST Women’s heptathlon resumes with the long jump 8.10am Javelin 5.10pm 800m (K Johnson-Thompson)
7.20am Men’s 5,000m heats (M Farah)
4.05pm Women’s 400m hurdles semi-final (P Shakes-Drayton, E Child, M Beesley)
4.40pm Men’s 400m hurdles semi-final (D Greene, R Williams)
5.40pm Women’s 1500m semi-final (H England)
6.10pm Men’s 800m final (A Osagie)
6.25pm Women’s 3,000m steeplechase final (E McColgan)