Until last night it is unlikely that any of the seven other men in the final of the 110m hurdles had heard of Lawrence Clarke. The 22-year-old former Etonian, heir to a baronetcy and distant relation to two US presidents, now has a notable achievement of his own to add to a rich family history worthy of a Wodehouse novel; a fourth place in the Olympic final out of deep left-field.
It would have taken most of the remainder of the night to explain his background to the rest of the field, but what became apparent over the handful of seconds the final occupied is that there is a world-class talent in that well-bred frame, and a relish for the big occasion. As he was introduced to the crowd, with the rest of the field probably wondering "Who?", he beamed and gestured for greater support.
His time of 13.39sec was actually down on his semi-final mark of 13.31 and at times during the race he appeared to be forcing himself rather than flowing like the men inside him, but he gritted his teeth and hurled himself into fourth behind Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson of the US and Jamiaca's Hansle Parchment. Dayron Robles, the dazzling Cuban world record holder and defending champion, pulled up midway through the race and joined Liu Xiang, China's pre-event favourite, in limping out of London without a medal.
"I can't believe I came fourth in the Olympic Games," said Clarke. "I didn't even expect to make the final. I ran the semi-final treating it as a final, and I ran a PB, so that was a dream come true."
For Merritt it was a classic example of peaking at the right time. He came into the race as the fastest man this year, having three times run 12.93, including at the London Grand Prix, and improved that again in a commanding run in the final, finishing in 12.92. It is the fastest he has ever run. The 27-year-old altered his technique at the start of this season in an attempt to close the gap on Robles and Xiang. He dropped the number of steps he takes to the first hurdle by one to seven and it has made that pivotal marginal difference.
Clarke won Commonwealth bronze two years ago. He had been spotted by Jason Gardener and recommended to Malcolm Arnold, the man who coached Colin Jackson to two world titles and also looks after Dai Greene. "The last four years have been remarkable," said Clarke. "I can't thank my coach enough – he took me from a 15.3 [sec] to a 13.3."
Clarke clearly has potential to succeed at the highest level, but what also cannot but grab the attention is his family history, one he doesn't seek to play down with photographs of himself dressed in a tweed suit on his website.
His great grandfather was Admiral Sir Dudley Rawson Stratford de Chair, once governor of New South Wales and the man who laid the foundation stone of Sydney Harbour Bridge. It gets better: Clarke is heir to baronetcy of Clarke of Dunham Lodge in Norfolk – awarded to the family for services to "womankind" by William IV, while his paternal great-grandfather married into the Roosevelt family, making Clarke the younger a distant cousin of two presidents of the US. He is also, for the final Wodehousian twist, a US citizen (as well as holding a British passport).
The British No 1, Andy Turner, world bronze medallist last year, failed to make the final. "I let my coach down, I let people down," he said. The women's 400m hurdles was won by Russia's Natalya Antyukh by 0.07sec from Lashinda Demus of the US, the current world champion. Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic was third.