As Dai Greene crossed the finish line in the London 2012 centrepiece arena last night, he clasped his hands to his face and dropped to the ground. He remained there for a good while, a picture of despair – lying on his back, his hands clasped to his head. The captain of the British track and field team thought he had blown his big Olympic chance. Only the first two finishers in the three semi-finals of the 400m hurdles were guaranteed a place in tomorrow's final and Greene had crossed the line fourth in the opening race.
There were two slots for the fastest losers but the Welshman was lying second in line with two semi-finals still to go. He watched the first of them from the steps of the trackside television interview gantry, looking distraught.
He could breathe a sigh of relief when the time for the third-placed finisher – Leford Green of Jamaica – flashed up. It was 0.04sec slower than the 48.19sec that Greene had recorded in the first race, when he had been unable to get past Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic, Jeheu Gordon of Trinidad and America's Kerron Clement in the home straight.
There was still one semi to go but the third-placer in that, Brent Larue of Slovakia, crossed the line in 49.45. Greene had sneaked through by the seat of his pants.
It was of no immediate consolation to an athlete who came to the Games as a gold medal hope, and as the reigning world champion. "Second-fastest loser?" Greene said. "That's no way to perform if you're world champion. I just feel like I've let everyone down, to be honest. I'm devastated.
"I should do better than that. I know I'm better than that. I'm running better than that in training. I just don't know what went wrong. I came off the bend too far down, with too much to do, off the pace a little bit."
At least the Swansea Harrier got to the final bend, and, ultimately, to the final. His training partner, Jack Green, crashed into the third hurdle in the second semi-final and out of the race. He had tears in his eyes as he left the track. "I hit hurdle three and then hit the floor," Green said. "It's a lack of experience in the event. I am absolutely distraught, as you can see."
Rhys Williams, the Welshman who won the European title last month, was lying third coming into the home straight in the third semi-final but faded to fourth in 49.63. "I gave it everything," he said. "I am gutted I am not going to get another chance to go out there because the support has been great. Who knows what Dai can do? Never write him off."
Christine Ohuruogu has been written off by a fair few in the four injury-plagued years she has endured since winning 400m gold in Beijing. The Stratford woman has regained her form with perfect timing, though. In the semi-finals last night she chased world indoor champion Sanya Richards-Ross down the home straight, finishing 0.15sec behind the American in 50.22, her fastest time of the year. Another Olympic medal beckons in tonight's final. Ohuruogu will be the sole British representative, Shana Cox and Lee McConnell having failed to progress from their semis.
At the World Championships in Daegu last summer Holly Bleasdale failed to make it beyond the qualifying round of the pole vault. Yesterday she made no mistake. A second-time clearance at 4.55m took the 20-year-old Blackburn Harrier through to Monday's final. "I've never been so nervous in my life," Bleasdale confessed. "The crowd were amazing. They lifted me so much." Sadly, the home crowd were unable to lift Bleasdale's British team-mate Kate Dennison sufficiently. The Sale Harrier could only manage a 4.25m clearance and was taken for medical treatment after a fall.
If Eilish McColgan was somewhat shaken when it came to the third and final heat of the 3,000m steeplechase, it was only natural. As her mother, 1988 Olympic 10,000m silver medallist Liz McColgan, related: "On the morning she was coming to London from Portugal she got hit by a car. It's definitely affected her." The daughter of the former world 10,000m champion trailed in ninth in 9min 54.36sec. "The experience was amazing," she said. "I've never run in front of an 80,000 crowd. But I'm very disappointed with my time."
McColgan senior added: "It's surreal to have a 21-year-old daughter competing in an Olympic Games. Everything's happened so quickly for Eilish. She's only been doing the event for two years. This experience will make her a better athlete." Barbara Parker, was much quicker in her heat, clocking 9:32.67 but still failed to qualify for the final.