Dai Greene: Our best Team GB in a long time will deliver the medals at London 2012
Eight gongs is a realistic goal, says Britain's athletics captain
The Great British summer weather seems destined to rain on the parade of home Olympic hopefuls at Crystal Palace tonight. It was teeming down at the south London track yesterday afternoon, and more of the same is expected on the opening night of the Aviva London Grand Prix. It is just as well, then, that nothing can dampen the mood of the athlete who will lead Britain's runners, jumpers, throwers and hurdlers into Olympic battle on the other side of town. Dai Greene can see a pot of gold, silver and bronze at the end of the rainbow.
Announced as captain on Monday, the Welshman, who won the world 400m hurdles title in Daegu last summer, is convinced that the home athletics squad are on course to hit the medal target of eight set by head coach Charles van Commenee.
"Eight seems very fair and I think we will attain it," Greene said. "Charles wouldn't say it if he didn't think we could attain it. He is very harsh but also very fair.
"If you look at myself, Mo Farah, Jess Ennis and Phillips Idowu, we have all picked up medals recently. You have Robbie Grabarz, Holly Bleasdale, some of the relays – and all sorts of people could come out of nowhere.
"Hannah England got a medal at the World Championships last year. We could get less or we could get more. You have to have an element of luck, I think, and hopefully things will go our way.
"I think this is one of our best teams in a long time. I think we've been getting steadily better in hitting our medal targets. We don't have massive numbers. It's more quality than quantity and we have a good mix of youngsters and experience. It's a good balance.
"People like Holly Bleasdale are so young and performing so well. Robbie Grabarz has come out of nowhere and seems to be handling it all very well. It's great to see that. The feeling is that the team has done better than in previous years already this season and it's about putting the icing on the cake in London."
It bodes well in the icing department that Greene himself has already played a captain's innings by racing himself into medal shape in recent weeks following a rusty start to the season after undergoing knee surgery at Christmas. The 26-year-old stands second in the world rankings this year, having clocked 47.84sec as runner-up to Javier Culson, the Puerto Rican he relegated to world silver with his flying finish in Daegu. The pair meet again tonight and Culson knows that Greene is rapidly gaining ground.
Asked whether his early-season form had caused him to panic, Greene said: "Not really. I just had to have faith in the training I was doing and my coach. I had been there and done it before. I know what it takes to get to the top."
Greene has certainly come a long way since he lined up for his first school sports-day race at his primary school in Llanelli and was so nervous he wet himself. He recounted that anecdote in his speech to the troops when he performed the captain's duties at the European Team Championships in Stockholm last summer.
"Yes, I'll have to come up with something else to say before the Games," the former Swansea City youth team footballer admitted. "My worry is that I've peaked too soon but I've got a few ideas."
One obvious theme would be how Greene stood in the cramped clubhouse at Moorways Stadium in Derby watching Usain Bolt's 100m world-record run at the Beijing Olympics on TV. Having missed out on selection for the 2008 Games, he was consigned to domestic league duty for his club – stoking up motivational fuel for the road to 2012.
Farah, Britain's other gold medal winner at the World Championships last year, can draw on the experience of having made the team for Beijing but failed to make the 5,000m final there. "Since Beijing I have moved on a lot," the Londoner, who runs in the 5,000m at the Palace tonight, said. "I have won medals and come up the rankings."
No British athlete shot up the global order more markedly than Hannah England last summer. The Oxford woman ran the race of her life to snatch silver in the 1,500m final at the World Championships.
Tonight she hits the comeback trail at the same distance. Badly spiked in an Achilles heel while running at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Games at Hengelo in the Netherlands in May, she has only been running for 11 days.
"When I was recovering and could only shuffle for 15 metres, I wondered if I would recover in time for the Olympics," England said. In such stark circumstances, just making the Games qualifies as a major achievement.
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