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'I try to forget I'm the best in the world'

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Tom Fordyce | 17:57 UK time, Monday, 23 January 2012

Many essential ingredients go into making a sportsman the best in the world - natural talent, the right genes, hard work and first-class coaching. Sometimes the decisive factor is the simplest of them all: raw determination.

"This is the time of year when you don't want to do some of the sessions, because you know you're going to be crawling along the floor at the end of them," says Dai Greene. "Then you think, I've got to get up and do another 300m, because I'm the world champion, and I've got to set the standard."

Greene is used to setting those standards high. He is reigning European and Commonwealth 400m hurdles champion, and has been British number one for the past three years. In winning gold at last summer's World Championships in Daegu he achieved something no other British male had ever done in his event.

For most people that would be cause to celebrate, to feel wonderful about the world and your place in it. Dai Greene is not most people.

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"It didn't feel like the greatest thing," he says. "I wouldn't say it was a feeling of emptiness - when I did cross the line first I thought, yes, fantastic. But at the same time I didn't find myself getting carried away with it.

"I felt, 'well, I expected this to happen'. Then it was 'right, I've achieved that goal. That was out of reach before I set it; now I'll set another goal and try to achieve that.'"

Kriss Akabusi, the only man left ahead of Greene in the all-time British rankings, admitted to feeling depressed in the days after winning world bronze in 1991. With his great ambition achieved, his life suddenly felt stripped of its primary purpose.

"I can certainly sympathise with that emotion," says Greene. "The step up I'd wanted to take last year was from maybe top three to number one in the world. So I don't think becoming world champion felt like that massive a deal, even if the overall achievement over the years was a great one."

Being number one in the world brings its own unique problems. John McEnroe once described it as the loneliest place in sport. From being the hunter, always someone ahead of you to chase, you're suddenly out front, the target for everyone else.

"Before I achieved it, I wondered if I might struggle," admits Greene. "I was worried - I'd always wanted to the best in the world, and now I've done it, am I going to struggle for motivation? Am I going to become complacent?

"I was surprised when I started back training how much I still wanted it, how much I really wanted to push on.

"I try to forget I'm the best in the world. It is nice sometimes when people come up to you and say, 'Alright world champ?' or 'How's it going, number one?' Those sorts of things can give you a lift in training, but the best thing to do is try your best to forget it.

"Just because I won the world title last year doesn't mean I have a divine right to anything this year. My hunger for that Olympic gold medal is just as strong as anyone else's."

Greene is not the fastest 400m hurdler in the world. In 2011, six men ran quicker times than he did. He was only the fifth fastest man on the blocks before last summer's World Championship final. Despite that, it was Greene who triumphed when all others failed.

How? There is immense mental fortitude to go with the physical and technical strengths. As his coach Malcolm Arnold told me, "You see some athletes who, when it comes to racing, go down a level. The really good guys who succeed go up not one notch but two. That's the final piece in the jigsaw. And Dai can do that."

"There isn't a lot between the eight guys who lined up for that final, so a lot of it is in your head," agrees Greene. "Sometimes I'll be thinking, 'this is a fantastic race, I can't wait for this', but I'll look at someone else and think, he's gone - he's too nervous.

"I looked around in the call-room [in Daegu] and I could see other people weren't handling it as well as me. Which was great. It gives you a lot of confidence when you see your rivals can't deal with that situation, yet you can.

"There were athletes a lot older than me in that final, and with a lot more experience, but they were still suffering with nerves. That showed at the start, and it showed during the race.

"I knew when I stepped on that start line that there were probably three of us left going for that gold medal. And I didn't feel as if I was overly nervous or panicking at any point. I felt very much in control. I felt rock solid."

Dai Greene

Greene is confident he can triumph in London on 6 August. Photo: Getty

Where does that ability to cope with such immense pressure come from? Has he always been this way?

"I've always been laid back. But as you get better at athletics you get better at coping with the big races. At the [2005] European Junior final I felt nervous. European under-23s, nervous. When I was in the world final in 2009 I was struggling to hold it together through the rounds. I felt the whole thing getting to me.

"But I became more confident and more accomplished with every step I took, because I'd managed to take more control over the controllables - training, preparation, diet, sleeping habits, routine. That's where my confidence comes from. That's what keeps me calm.

"If I'd have shaved the odd rep here and there, or not done the extra core session, or not eaten properly, I would be more nervous. But I've done everything I can to prepare for any race."

Greene is currently at a UK Athletics camp in Stellenbosch, South Africa, soaking up high-volume training in temperatures that have climbed into the 40s. If that's taking warm-weather training to an extreme, and is rather different from "the top of a windy hill in Bath", as he calls his regular training base, it is here that the groundwork is being laid for the Olympic assault ahead.

When Greene and Arnold sat down to plan for London 2012, there was agreement on what was needed: more speed. For now, perversely, that means working on his endurance base - nine lots of 300m hard; 45 minutes of 60 seconds hard running, 60 seconds rest.

"When you arrive here and the sun's shining you find yourself wanting to run fast," he says, "but there are seven months until the Olympics, and you don't get medals for running fast in January."

As the weeks of hard graft go by, the days of extra core sessions and crawling along the floor, the Olympics will be a constant by his side.

"Until two weeks before the Games I'll be thinking, 'this is the biggest competition of my career, I've got to keep going and keep getting better'. Then I'll switch and start thinking 'they're just another race, just another race' because you don't want to put them on a pedestal and start getting hung up about it all."

Does he ever allow himself to daydream about winning gold on the night of 6 August?

"I do wonder sometimes, I do think forward. If I'm struggling in training I think, remember that feeling of crossing the line and beating everyone, whether it was the Commonwealths or Europeans or Worlds, and that I don't want to be losing those races.

"It makes me finish the rep or finish the session. I think, I've worked so hard to get to the top, I don't want anyone to knock me off.

"But I don't think about what I've achieved. I don't think about how what I've done has only been done before by a handful of people. I don't think any of that."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Great to have you back blogging regularly Tom.

    Dai has always struck me as not just a very driven individual, but also a very honest and genuine one, one who is not too bothered with how the media perceive him, or how a comment he makes may be reported - he would rather say what he thinks and get on with it, and I respect that.

    I always wonder how far athletes like Mark L-F would have come had he had the same attitude of "I can't miss a session/set/rep/meal", one suspects they would have been far more successful.

  • Comment number 2.

    A good blog Tom.

    When Dai won his world championship, my initial thoughts were, he's going to have to find a couple of extra gears if he wants the Olympic title.

    Tom, as you have illustrated and on every ocassion I've seen him interviewed, he shows the mentality of a champion which is half the battle. As we have witnessed over many years of track championships just being the fastest is no gaurantee of success.

    I do think he will have to take the UK record if he is to win the title but he can do it and let's all hope he does.

  • Comment number 3.

    I love how grounded Dai Green is. His event is a very open one. Hopefully Dai can get some extra speed in and drop his flat 400 pb to below 45 and maybe his 200pb to around 20.8.

    Mentally he seems to have it all.It's also good that there are a few other brits capable of getting a low 48 in.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    His times are unimpressive, he may have a worlds gold but I dont think anyone is suggesting he is the best or fastest in the world.

    Frankly I dont agree that his attitude is that good, I remember him whining about the possibility of Team GB football taking his thunder.....

    He won a gold in an event that is the least popular of the sprints, in an average time.... hes not exactly a story of the olympics for me - but then again, none of the british olympic athletes appeal or interest or excite me, with the exception of Odowu and Mo Farah (who we can hardly take credit for).

    I cant wait for the olympics to come about - I do not understand the killjoys such as poster #4 - as it will be an amazing time for London. I am not, however, bothered about the british athletes who, like the british female tennis players, are constantly talked about just because we have to because we/they are both british, when they arent good enough to tie the laces of the top players/athletes.

    Dai who?? I just want to see the Lightning Bolt!

  • Comment number 6.

    Sort of with #5. He's not the best in the world. But he is world champion. And being world champion at anything is impressive.

    I can't wait for the Olympics as well. Going down to London to be there and watch the free events - especially Cav and the boys in the cycling. Got tickets for a few events but will have to make do with watching Usain Branson - sorry Bolt on the telly.

    Dai does seem to be very impressive with the psychological side of competition and I believe that’s more important than the physical side. But as with many athletes, depression can come on so easily and the ‘winning is everything’ mentality can also have a negative effect as well as a positive one.

  • Comment number 7.

    @5. TeniPurist
    You clearly don't know enough about athletics to form a proper argument.
    a) His times are not unimpressive. He was among the worlds best all season and beat them frequently in the diamond league races.
    b) His attitude is tremendous. If everyone put the work in he clearly does we'd possibly have a couple more world champions in our ranks. And I for one agree with him that professional sports such as football and tennis have no place at the Olympic Games, they devalue it for those such as Dai who work their socks off to compete there.
    c) 'Least popular of the sprints', did you watch any athletics last year? Over the course of the season the 400m Hurdles were superbly entertaining, more so than the majority of the 100m clashes. But then I get the impression the 100m was all you tuned in for.
    d) If you knew anything about the sprint events then you'd know they're much more exciting than an easy win for Bolt these days. Personally I'd love to see Bolt lose, where is the excitement in a predetermined outcome?
    Keep up the good work Dai, those of us that understand and appreciate the sport recognise the amount of work you're putting in and wish you the best for 2012.

  • Comment number 8.

    @5 TeniPurist "with the exception of Odowu and Mo Farah (who we can hardly take credit for)"?? Mo moved to Hounslow, England aged 8 (20 years ago) and has an English father. Philips has Nigerian parents but was born in Hackney, England. How exactly can the UK athletics set up not take credit for the development of these athletes? I also assume you are lumping all "athletes" in with your statement ie cyclists, rowers, sailors, equestrian, martial arts, swimmers, triathletes - excitement and medal hopes in all of these and many more. Good luck Britain!

  • Comment number 9.

    @ 4 least popular? who says? I love the fact that both the mens and womens hurdles are hightly competitive. Times were down in many events in Daegu. THe olympic gold will be won in a time of around 47.6. can Dai run that quick YES.

    As for British athletes not inspiring you, perhpas you should only switch on for the 4 rounds of the 100 m men and three rounds of the 200 to see Bolt. I cannot wait to see Jess in the heptathlon and Holy in the PV.

    Personally I like all events and like many athletes from a variety of
    countries.

  • Comment number 10.

    Appreciate the replies guys, it was perhaps slightly inflammatory some of the things I said, and i learned a few things too.

    Basically, the quote "I try to forget im the best in the world" made me a tad nauseous.

    I hope Dai wins the gold, as with all our other medal hopes !

  • Comment number 11.

    Sorry to say this but i don't see you as the best in the world you done well to win the world championship. To be the best in the world you have to win more titles claming your the best after one lol keep it real

  • Comment number 12.

    But he was the number 1 in 2011 and arguably in 2010. He beat all of his rivals and only suffered one early defeat.

    The faster times, by other athletes were set at altitude or in better conditions.

    What is wrong with saying you are the best when you are the world champ and beat all your rivals in the diamond league races?

  • Comment number 13.

    @ taffy6270 The faster times, by other athletes were set at altitude were theres less air no fast time are set at altitude i say to call your self the best he needs to win the olympics . Diamond league is good but it does'nt compare

  • Comment number 14.

    sorry for spelling mistakes

  • Comment number 15.

    raga, in events from 100 to 400 there is a huge adavantage at running at altitude. hence why pietro mennaes 200 meter worl record stood until MJ smashed it. Also many people, including brits run at events high above sea level to get quicker times.

    It is also why there is always an A after the time or distance ( if it is a long jump).

    This isn't my opinion it is a scientific fact.

  • Comment number 16.

    I kind of hope Dai does well, and hopefully wins gold, especially as a welshman!!!

    But I think it would also be good for it to go to somebody who's not so big headed?? And a bit more gracious. I mean, 'I try to forget I'm the best in the world' and 'I don't think about how what I've done has only been done before by a handful of people' is going a bit too far!

    Calm down Dai, there are plenty of people who have achieved far greater, and overcome far bigger hurdles!!!

    And football has just as much of a place at the Olympics as any other competitive sport or activity. Chill out and hopefully you will do well :)

  • Comment number 17.

    "I try to forget I'm the best in the world".
    He is not, he won a race and is therefore World Champion, but not the best in the world!
    "Greene is not the fastest 400m hurdler in the world. In 2011, six men ran quicker times than he did". Typical British hype and it seems to me that he is a bit of a big head. Maybe I'm wrong.

  • Comment number 18.

    He'll gain no kudos from the ladies so hats off to him, he's obviously focusing his exertions elsewhere ;-)

  • Comment number 19.

    Best in the world or not lets just hope Dai goes to London and brings back the gold medal for Wales

  • Comment number 20.

    @ 5: I am surprised to see you applying the term "killjoy" to others.
    @ 7: it's not just the presence of sports that already have their own very visible championships, it's the silly juggling that goes on to pretend they're adhering to the Olympic spirit (eg: making football U-23 and then allowing 3 over 23s in the side), which was always geared towards amateur sport anyway (another dilemma that has been poorly handled in the past).
    @ 11 (& 17): goodness, you're hard to please. Surely winning the world championship in your sport entitles you to be called "the best in the world", at least until the next world championship comes around?

  • Comment number 21.

    I dare say that if Dai Greene was the fastest man in the world last year, and failed to win a gold medal, then comments saying he is the fastest in the world, not only would mean nothing, but also he would be called bottler or worse.

    Hopefully he will win the gold this year, to really show h is the best, even f he doesn't he has done fantastically well to win a world gold medal.

  • Comment number 22.

    I wonder if Dai Greene has crossed paths with LJ van Zyl while he has been training in SA? LJ has a better pb than greene and ran a lot of quick times early last season so clearly one of dai greene's big threats... As a saffa I am hoping that LJ puts it all together at the right time this season. If he can poor Dai Greene won't have to spend any more time trying to forget that he is "the best in the world"!

  • Comment number 23.

    The World Championships is a competition specifically for the purpose of determining who the World Champion is. Now, my definition of World Champion is the person who beats all-comers, who not only has the ability but also the mental strength to perform in the only race of the season that actually matters. So what if 6 people ran faster? They couldn't handle the mental side of it and so are not the best in the world. Dai is. He won the World Championships, he has earned the right to call himself the best in the world, he has worked most of his life to become the best in the world so I don't really think any of us should begrudge him that right. Superb athlete, and deservedly the best 400m hurdler in the world.
    (Also, @13 check the facts before making things up. Running at altitude is a MASSIVE advantage, hence times posted 1000m above sea level being ILLEGAL)

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    "I try to forget I'm the best in the world"

    Been there done that, except I only made the obscurity of 3rd in a minor sport.
    Because it takes passion, self belief and utter dedication to reach the top and stay there. Accepting second best or making compromises means being second at best.
    So if you want to cheer champions you need to accept they MUST have a big dose of arrogance to have got there.

    Hurdles might not the premier slot at the olympics but at least its a lot less elitist and more watchable than many of our medal hopes in such thrills as boating and shooting.

  • Comment number 26.

    If he was a 6' blonde female with long legs called Sally the press would be all over him like a rash.

  • Comment number 27.

    Amazing! This young man will be representing your country in July and is currently world gold medal holder in his sport and you diss (and dismiss) him!? Incroyable! I suspect that what he means when he makes certain statments is that he tries not to let the superlatives get to his head so that they obliterate the fact that being number 1 at anything is not a forever thing. Good luck to Mr. Dai Greene and to all the athletes who work hard to represent their countries in the Olympics. Good luck to all the athletes who arrive in London in a few months time.

  • Comment number 28.

    taffy6270 lol how many world records for athletics have been set at high altitude altitude compared to records set at altitude ???????? we all know The effects of trainning at high altitude as for Pietro Mennea his trainning regime was crazy

  • Comment number 29.

    taffy6270 lol how many world records for athletics have been set at high altitude altitude compared to records set at low altitude ???????? we all know The effects of trainning at high altitude as for Pietro Mennea his trainning regime was crazy

 

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