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How Greene is my valley

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Tom Fordyce | 09:15 UK time, Monday, 11 October 2010

When you hear Tom Jones's Delilah blasting out over a stadium PA in the middle of a sweltering Delhi evening, you know something must be going right for Wales.

It was. When Dai Greene stormed to 400m hurdles gold, compatriot Rhys Williams behind him in third, with Christian Malcolm favourite for the 200m, Brett Morse tipped for at least a bronze in the discus and two men in the final of the 800m, it looked as if we were set for a night to match the glory days of Jackson, Thomas and Baulch.

That the team ended the sticky night with just a bronze for Malcolm to add to the hurdlers' tally may have caused the heavily-hungover Welshman sitting on my left to rest his forehead despairingly on the chair in front, but it should do little to diminish the magnitude of Greene's season-sealing achievement.

Until Sunday, it hadn't been a vintage Commonwealth Games for Wales - a week in, and still not a single gold medal.

For European champion Greene, tired after a long, globe-trotting season and towing the tag of favourite, it was almost as if an 11th hurdle had been placed in his path.

Dai Greene celebrates his 400m hurdles Commonwealth Games gold

Greene is European and Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles champion. Photo: AFP

When I spoke to him three days ago, he said he was over the stomach bug that had laid him low at the Welsh training-camp in Doha. Watching his semi-final, you wondered if it had made a late comeback. He was so weary that he had to sit down before doing his post-race interview with my BBC 5 live colleague Kath Merry.

Within the main narrative of this 400m hurdles final was also an entirely Welsh subplot: the quite open rivalry and antipathy between Greene and Williams, drawn in the lane just inside him.

Through the first 100m the lean Greene was the first to show, reigning champion LJ van Zyl holding him in the lane outside, Williams back with the also-rans.

As that pattern held coming into the home straight, the pre-race predictions looked to be holding. What wasn't part of the script was the way Van Zyl honed in on Greene, metre by metre, until coming off the final hurdle the South African was just half a stride down and closing.

Greene, gaunt of face, victorious in every one of his big races this year, was not to be vanquished. Eyes narrowed, mouth gaping, he held his form and held the narrow advantage across the line.

Up went the wagging finger, on came the relieved smile, out stuck the chest with WALES written on it in large letters.

No-one could blame him for revelling in the moment. On the 10th of the 10th in '10, he had secured Wales's 10th Commonwealth gold medal, and their first on the track since Thomas's 400m triumph in Kuala Lumpur 12 years ago. It also saw him join a select and special band of Welshmen to have won both European and Commonwealth titles in the same season: Lynn Davies, Jackson, Thomas and now Greene.

"My season couldn't have gone any better," he said afterwards. "I had loads of Welsh people coming up to me all day saying, we haven't had a gold yet, you can do it. It's not bad when it's one pr two, but when it's 25 or 30...

"But it's been a brilliant year. There's nothing else I could possibly have won."

What might sound to some ears like braggadocio is actually an entirely fair comment. Greene was victorious at the British trials, European Team championships, European Championships, Continental Cup and now the Commonwealths. He has gone under 48 seconds, moved to second on the all-time British lists and beaten the undisputed world number one Bershawn Jackson en route.

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In a fortnight when questions have been raised about the standard of athletics on display, here is one man who is truly world-class.

There appeared to be plenty of romantic reasons for Malcolm to secure 200m gold too. 12 years ago, as a fresh-faced youngster with the world junior 100m and 200m titles in his back pocket, he kick-started his senior career with Commonwealth silver behind the similarly-smooth Julian Golding.

After years of frustration and injury, his silver at the Europeans - a dip of the chest away from gold - seemed to suggest the sweetest of swansongs. He even had a race number - 1958 - that matched the year the Empire Games was held in his native South Wales.

Instead, England's Leon Baptiste delivered on his own unfulfilled promise to seal a win that was in its own way just as poetic.

Baptiste had missed out on joining Malcolm in the British squad for the Europeans in Barcelona only after being asked by head coach Charles van Commenee to do a race-off against Marlon Devonish at the team's holding-camp in Portugal.

Baptiste, given very little warning and carrying a slight injury, messed up and missed out. His gold medal here will be a very popular one among many British athletes back home.

"This has made up for it," he said afterwards. "Commonmwealth champion - I can't believe it."

Malcolm, magnanimous and mature, was generous with his praise.

"I'm happy - I'm not going to hide it," he said. "I came here for the gold, but I'm on podium. It's amazing for me to run for Wales; this is only time we get to do it for our country on the global stage, and I'm delighted to come here and win a medal."

At Greene's medal ceremony, the Tom Jones of earlier in the evening was replaced by the more sober but equally stirring Hen Wlad fy Nhadau.

"You're a star Dai Greene," tweeted Baulch, Commonwealth medallist himself at two different Games. Few in his home country would disagree.


  • Comment number 1.

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

  • Comment number 2.

    I note that Dai Greene has pulled out of the 4x400m. Ironic really, as this was the event which he felt most frustration at given the Welsh injury dropouts for the 4x400 in Melbourne.

    On one hand you can't really blame him - he must be absolutely knackered, but on the other hand, its the last race of the season, his nation needs him to lift them (note the Welsh International Football results...), and if he has a minor injury, he'll have plenty of time to recuperate before the (reasonably low-key) Outdoor season next year.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well done BakedBeans. Once more you provide us with an utterly useless remark. Please think before you comment.

  • Comment number 4.

    I hope BakedBeans can keep on-topic for any future comments.

    #2 Dai Greene is being reported and quoted elsewhere on BBC website as having an injured foot which was deteriorating during his previous races, so its understandable why he has now dropped out.

  • Comment number 5.

    Well done Dai, as Tom says, truly world class.

    As for the antipathy between Greene and Williams, aren't they training partners?

  • Comment number 6.

    "At Greene's medal ceremony, the Tom Jones of earlier in the evening was replaced by the more sober but equally stirring Land of My Fathers."

    It's called Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau - does it really need translating?

  • Comment number 7.

    llannerch - slightly ironically, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau would need translating for Dai - he doesn't speak a word of Welsh. Honestly. I do take your point though...

  • Comment number 8.

    Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau would need translating for Dai - he doesn't speak a word of Welsh.

    Every Welshman knows what it means, many outside of Wales know the Welsh name but not the English though so it's actually better in Welsh there.

    Green and Williams are part of the same training group with the same coach but they very very rarely train together as in working on the same aspect at the same time or race each other so it would be a huge stretch to call them partners.

    Also the story I'm hearing from some in the camp is that his foot is very sore and had started to swell since his opening race so by Wednesday it could be very unconfortable indeed.


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