James Lawton: Crestfallen captain finds defiance is not enough as dream dies

Greene looked like a man who had run into a nightmare – or a timewarp
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Dai Greene, the passionate world champion and Great Britain team captain who couldn't understand why he hadn't been carried to the stars by these Olympics, gave it another try here last night.

He told himself that it was his time, his prime of life, and he fought with everything he had to join his team-mates Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford in the warm glow of the nation.

Unfortunately it was nowhere near enough. He was ambushed by, among others, a man from the past with the uncanny knack of ultimately consistent performance.

Felix Sanchez, the 34-year-old extrovert of the Dominican Republic who won Olympic gold in Athens eight years ago while wearing a flashing armband, left the man from Llanelli trailing, finishing the 400 metres course in 47.63 seconds. It just happened to be precisely his time in Greece.

Greene, understandably enough, looked like a man who had run into a nightmare – or at the very least a dislocating time warp.

He finished in fourth place in a personal best of 48.24, behind American Michael Tinsley and the pre-race favourite Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, and if this was something that would have shocked him profoundly in the exuberance of his World Championship title it carried a sad formality last night.

The fourth place, so far beneath his expectations as he approached these Games with such a highly developed ambition, was in the end something of a statement of defiance. He floundered off the pace in the early going and it was only a superb effort of will that brought him into a distant contention in the final strides.

Greene fought with passionate defiance in those last strides but it was a desperate cause and it seemed he brought that knowledge on the track last night.

The crowd, as has become their now deeply entrenched habit, roared their support when he was announced. But while this was an inspiration for Ennis and Farah and Rutherford, it just seemed to be another layer of pressure on the man who was traumatised by his near catastrophe in the semi-final when he qualified only as one of the fastest losers. "I was deeply shocked," he said. "because that was no way for a world champion to behave."

It was an experience which showed on his face when the cheers rolled across the stadium. He was tense and at the gun he never hit the stride which announces a man who is plainly on top of himself.

Later he spoke of tiredness and it was hard not to imagine that it was also something of an affliction of the spirit. Greene had had his injury problems on the approach of the challenge of his life but he believed he had brought himself back to the kind of confidence which won him his world crown.

It was a belief that had been draining for several days and now he was at the other side of the glory which had come to his team-mates, especially in the case of Farah, a rival for the captaincy.

Greene said: "I had a shock [in the semi-final] a few days ago when I felt so tired and tonight I was surprised to go as fast as I did. I gave it everything but I was just too tired and narrowly missed out."

If he wanted to measure that with a tape it was a fair point to make. But the sad truth was that a man who had dedicated his life to a climactic moment of triumph instead had to suffer the pain of shocking defeat. This too, his face reminded us, is the Olympics.