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Second to none as Davis turns his California dream to reality

Malachi Davis, the 400m runner whose version of California dreaming is to represent Great Britain, the land of his mother's birth, at the Athens Olympics next month, confirmed his selection for the squad, albeit by finishing second in his heat at the Loughborough international meeting.

Davis was given the same finishing time of 46.30sec as the winner, Cardiff's Matt Elias, which is almost a second outside the Olympic qualifying time. The 26-year-old Davis, who comes from Sacramento, has already clocked a good enough time of 45.52 in Tucson this year, but this became irrelevant when his closest rival, Sean Baldock, could finish no better than seventh at a meeting in Madrid last night in a time of 46.37.

With his new British passport only nine days old, Davis is still adjusting to his cross-country move and his potential team-mates. He praised Elias and what he called "the other gentleman" for making it such a close race, the other gentleman being Jared Deacon, who was third, one-hundredth of a second behind him.

Davis's big occasion came in front of a smattering of spectators at the Loughborough University track on a cool, blustery afternoon. Among them was his mother, Ava, whose British birth was the catalyst in her son's switch of nationalities. Malachi thought she came from Shepherd's Bush, but Ava said, no, she just lived there. "I was born in King's Cross Hospital, within the sound of Bow Bells," she smiled.

Davis summed up his performance as "not good", adding: "I anticipated a win down the back stretch because I have now got the jet-lag out of my system. I could have run a bit more aggressively, but mentally I relaxed too much. Physically, though, I felt a lot stronger than when I competed in Manchester last weekend. In my next two races I'm looking for a faster time." Those races will be in Madrid on Wednesday and then on Sunday, when he will compete for Great Britain against the United States in Birmingham.

Davis said that just getting into the relay team would be well worth his switch of countries: "I have a good four more years before the next Olympics in China." Asked if he could name the British Prime Minister, Davis promptly came up with Tony Blair's name. "I have been following up in the newspapers," he explained. "But I have a lot of catching up to do in that area." He admitted he did not yet know the words of the national anthem, but promised: "I'll have them for you by tomorrow." He is also taking a lot of ribbing from his coaches and friends back in California. "Everybody rings me up with their best English impersonations. They expect me to have the accent down. I also get a lot of tea and fish-and-chips comments. But I'm pretty laid-back."

Davis estimated it had so far cost him in excess of $4,000 (£2,135) to make his move to Britain. "Right now I'm just relying on my credit card to keep me above water," he grinned. "I thought I was just going to be here for four days at last weekend's trials. I have had a lot of laundry to do, and the other day I was in downtown Loughborough buying clothes." It was, he claimed, not too different from downtown Los Angeles, where he now lives. "The people are nice."

Davis, who is ranked 26th fastest among US 400m men, explained his comparatively slow time at Loughborough thus: "The Olympics will bring out the best in me. I would rather run faster when it counts than peak too soon. I have another gear." Elias, a member of the Wales 400m relay team at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester two years ago, said he had no objections to Davis's adoption of British nationality. "It's great for the sport," he said. "I was only miffed we were told about it at such a late date. Had we been told, we could have prepared ourselves mentally for it. Instead we were suddenly told this American guy who has run 45.5 is British. But personally I have nothing against him." Jamie Baulch's hopes of making the British squad ended when he pulled up halfway through his heat with a hamstring injury.