Captain Greene makes early statement of intent

 

As he waited in the "call room" in the bowels of the Olympic Stadium yesterday, before heat three of the men's 400m hurdles, Dai Greene caught sight of a familiar figure on a television screen in the corner. It was Jessica Ennis getting her heptathlon bid off to a flying start with a 12.54sec clocking in the 100m hurdles.

"I had to get a bit closer to the screen to double check the time," Greene confessed later. "Those things are amazing for team morale."

Suitably inspired, the British team captain proceeded to get his own Olympic gold-medal campaign off to an impressive start, winning his heat from lane one in 48.93sec. "It's a great honour to be captain," the Welshman said. "I wanted to set the tempo from the start and go out there and win."

Greene was the second-fastest heat winner in his event but only the fourth fastest overall. In the heat that followed, Javier Culson, the Puerto Rican Greene beat to the World Championship title in Daegu last summer, clocked a nippy 48.33sec and was followed home by Kerron Clement of the US in 48.48sec and Omar Cisneros of Cuba in 48.98sec.

Watching from the stands was David Hemery, winner of the 1968 Olympic title in 48.12sec. "These are astonishing times for a first round," he enthused. "I still run, and wish I was out there too."

There were two other Britons in action and both made it through to today's semi-finals, Rhys Williams clocking a season's best of 49.17sec for fifth place in Culson's super-fast heat and Jack Green finishing runner-up in heat six with 49.49sec.

The British trio in the heats of the women's 400m also progressed. Christine Ohuruogu, the defending champion and local girl, could have won the opening heat but eased down before the line, finishing 0.02sec behind Francena McCrory of the United States in 50.80sec. Shana Cox (52.01sec) and Lee McConnell (52.23sec) both finished third in their heats.

All of which delighted a voluble capacity crowd of 80,000. "It was wonderful to arrive at the Olympic Games this morning and see a totally packed stadium for the first session of athletics," Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said. "I do not remember the last time this happened and it shows the great affection Britain has for our sport."

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