Malachi: thanks for my passport - and my life

Behind the 'Instant Briton' headlines is an inspirational story. Simon Turnbull meets a runner to respect

Two weeks and a day after his whirlwind arrival on the British athletics scene, Malachi Davis gets to run in the red, white and blue of the Great Britain team this afternoon. It is sure to be another high-profile, high-pressure occasion for the erstwhile unknown quarter-miler.

When he lines up for the 400m in the Norwich Union International at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, the opposition will just happen to include his former compatriots from the United States. Davis was a US citizen and athlete until FedEx delivered a British passport to his home in Brentwood - a Los Angeles suburb along Sunset Boulevard from Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Bel Air - two days before his appearance at the British Olympic trials in Manchester.

The occasion is sure to stir up more of the hysteria that has surrounded the somewhat bewildered Californian on his maiden, extended, voyage to the land of his Cockney mother: along the lines of the "Malachi Malarkey" and "Instant Brit" headlines, and the steamed-up Radio Five presenter putting it to him that "it was not really fair to get hold of a British passport at the last minute".

Not that Davis is allowing the critical fuss to get to him. He is taking it all in his unruffled stride. As well he might. At 26, the graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, has overcome something far more formid-able than a chorus of disapproval. As he relates: "I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of five. It was two weeks before my sixth birthday. That's when my dad told me."

Davis had been diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma. He was moved from his sickbed in the family home in Sacramento to the cancer ward at the nearby Kaiser Hospital.

"I was too young at the time to realise how serious it was," he continues. "I didn't realise that until I got a lot older. It's a disease that takes a lot of lives. Getting over it is definitely something that I don't take for granted. I'm thankful for everything I've achieved and everything I have - just to have my health. I'm very, very grateful to have my health."

Since the final announcement of the British track-and-field team last Tuesday morning, Davis has an Olympic place to go with his good health. For all the outrage that his belated attempt to gain selection has attracted, mostly from sections of the media, his graduation to Olympian status is above all else a story of inspiration.

As he says: "It means an awful lot to me to get to the Olympic Games, and to a lot of people who supported me. It might even be something for cancer patients out there, people going through the disease right now. I will gladly help others who have the disease. I can tell them that there are people who survive it and go on to lead prosperous lives. I'm proving it.

"I was bedridden for a long time and I can remember being extremely sick. But by the age of nine I was cured. It was completely out of the system. As I've grown up, I've come into contact with people who have cancer and it's been a motivating story for them. That's given me strength and it's given them strength.

"I'm just happy to be here. I'm thrilled to be running, thrilled to have my health. And thrilled that I'm going to the Olympic Games. It's a picture that I've dreamed about."

It's a picture Davis's parents could have hardly dared dream about when they took their son down to the local track and encouraged him to chase the family dog, Sammy, to hasten his recuperation after his long illness. For his mother, to see him run in the red, white and blue of Great Britain will be the realisation of a personal dream. Ava Gordon is a Los Angelean Londoner, born in Lambeth and brought up in Shepherd's Bush.

"She went to the States to go to college," Davis says. "I don't think she saw herself staying that long, but it's now pushing 30 years. She's definitely played a big part in me running here. Without her, I'd still be in the States."

When he left the States on 7 July, Davis only expected to be in Britain for four days, to compete in the trials and then return home. He has stayed on, living and training at UK Athletics' High Performance Centre at Loughborough University, while his selection fate has been resolved - and while sections of the media have whipped up a bigger storm than they ever did when Budge Pountney was picked for the Scottish rugby union team - and subsequently captained it - on the strength that a grandparent born in the Channel Islands qualified him to represent any of the home nations.

The truth was there was no other contender for the third 400m place in the British team for Athens. Davis was the only athlete who had achieved a qualifying time. And if he can regain the form that took him to his 45.52sec clocking in Tucson in May, he could put the British 4 x 400m relay team into contention for a medal in Athens.

His first chance to do so comes this afternoon, when he runs for Britain against the United States. "It'll be interesting," Davis says, with a broad grin. "But when it comes down to it, when you get to the line, everybody's competing against everybody else. It doesn't matter what background you come from."

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
News
i100
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect