Aug 062012
 

Less than a minute stands between Dai Greene and gold tonight.

With the support of the entire nation, the World, European and Commonwealth champion will aim to make history by claiming Wales’ first Olympics athletics individual gold since Lynn the Leap Davies in 1964.

Experts lined up to praise his physical and mental strength after the Team GB athletics captain almost missed out on a place in tonight’s hotly contested 400 metres hurdles final.

David Hemery, who was the last Great Britain Olympic champion in the 400m hurdles in Mexico City in 1968, said: “He delivers under pressure and is very good at holding it together and producing when it matters.

“He is not the fastest in that field, but his ability to deliver on the big occasion and the courage he shows means a huge amount.”

Such victory would gild a momentous weekend for Team GB, as it won eight gold medals taking the total gold tally to 16.

  • Dai Greene becomes world 400 metres hurdles champion

    Dai Greene becomes world 400 metres hurdles champion

  • Dai Greene celebrates winning the gold medal in the men's 400 metre hurdles during Day Six of the IAAF World Athletics Championships

    Dai Greene celebrates winning the gold medal in the men’s 400 metre hurdles during Day Six of the IAAF World Athletics Championships

  • Dai Greene reacts after finishing fourth in the Olympics Men's 400m Hurldes Semi Final

    Dai Greene reacts after finishing fourth in the Olympics Men’s 400m Hurldes Semi Final

  • Dai Greene reacts after finishing fourth in the Olympics Men's 400m Hurldes Semi Final

    Dai Greene reacts after finishing fourth in the Olympics Men’s 400m Hurldes Semi Final

  • Dai Greene and USA's Kerron Clement (right) jump the final hurdle in their Men's 400m Hurdles Semi Final at the Olympic Stadium

    Dai Greene and USA’s Kerron Clement (right) jump the final hurdle in their Men’s 400m Hurdles Semi Final at the Olympic Stadium

  • Dai Greene's parents Stephen and Susan at their Llanelli home

    Dai Greene’s parents Stephen and Susan at their Llanelli home

  • Harry Watkins pub in Felinfeol , Llanelli, shows its support for Dai Greene

    Harry Watkins pub in Felinfeol , Llanelli, shows its support for Dai Greene

  • Dai Greene playing for Trostre Juniors aged 11

    Dai Greene playing for Trostre Juniors aged 11

  • Dai Greene playing soccer for Swansea City aged 13

    Dai Greene playing soccer for Swansea City aged 13

  • Dai Greene playing for Trostre Juniors aged 11

    Dai Greene playing for Trostre Juniors aged 11

  • Dai Greene aged five

    Dai Greene aged five

As a schoolboy more keen on football, Dai Greene was “naff” at hurdles.

Yet today he stands on the brink of an extraordinary clean-sweep of honours as he seeks to add Olympic gold to his World, European and Commonwealth champion titles.

But he will have to do it the hard way after only sneaking in to the final of the event – so energy-sapping it is dubbed the “man killer” – as one of the “fastest losers” in Saturday’s semi-finals.

The 26-year-old, captain of Team GB’s athletes, admitted afterwards he felt “devastated” by his performance and like he had “let everyone down”.

But the Llanelli-born star has never done things the easy way, overcoming knee problems and epilepsy as a teenager before working to pay for his own training after failing to get Lottery funding.

And he comes in to the Olympics just months after a knee operation last December which threatened to disrupt his preparations.

When he takes centre stage in lane three at London’s Olympic Park at 8.45pm tonight he will have the eyes of Britain on him and the pressure will once again mount.

As well as Greene’s family and girlfriend, another familiar face in the 80,000-strong crowd will be the man who first introduced him to the hurdles – former PE teacher Mike Walters.

Mr Walters, who first made Greene “reluctantly” jump a hurdle at the age of 11 at Coedcae Comprehensive School, will be in the crowd to cheer his protege on.

“I can hardly believe I will be there to see the culmination of all Dai’s hard work after all these years,” said Mr Walters, now retired.

As a youngster Greene was a talented footballer, playing for Swansea City and memorably scoring a penalty in a game against Real Madrid.

But a case of Osgood-Schlatter disease – a painful knee condition – when he was 14 prevented him from running for a year and, following a disagreement with a coach, he turned his back on football as a 15-year-old.

“I have never met anyone more single-minded than Dai,” said Mr Walters.

“As a teenager he was set on becoming a Swansea City footballer and showed early great promise. But we had two soccer players in the school and they were both flyers but Dai was slightly slower so he could never make the right wing berth his own.

“As a result he learned to kick with his left foot to adapt to the left wing slot and scored a famous penalty for the Swansea youth in European competition.

“It was a few years later when his interest in soccer waned and he returned to athletics through Swansea Harriers that Dai was reintroduced to hurdles he was quite naff at at Coedcae.

“He found the left foot soccer training gave him a now natural technique to hurdle at a breakneck pace. The rest is history and I am grateful for my small part in this great man’s success.”

No matter what the outcome today, nobody in the stadium will be prouder than Greene’s family and long-term girlfriend, teacher Sian Davies.

His father Steve, a builder, will be hoping to see his eldest son claim Olympic gold after years spent helping him pursue his dream.

“When he was eight he wanted to join a football team so I became manager of a team where Dai played for a few years,” Steve said.

“He could have been a footballer and when he was 12 he was spotted by scouts and asked to join Swansea City Academy, an elite youth team affiliated to the club.”

That meant Steve driving Dai to weekend matches as far away as Plymouth and Oxford as well as taking him to training sessions twice a week at Morfa Stadium, a 24-mile round trip.

After the “earth-shattering” discovery of his knee condition at 14, Steve feared his son’s sporting dreams could be over.

But the youngster fought back and returned to football – before telling his father a year later, following a training session, he was not going back.

“There was a clash of personalities with the coach I think.

“I didn’t try to pressure him to change his mind. We got home and had a chat about the pros and cons and we told him whatever he wanted to do, we would support him.”

At 16 he began to train seriously with Swansea Harriers and was soon in the undr-17s squad.

“He did very well very quickly and we ended up having to go to Neath for training. That was a 30-mile round trip at least twice a week.

“If you saw the state of him when he came back to the car at the end of training, he couldn’t even walk back to the car sometimes.

“The coach used to say to us when he was like that, ‘I’ve finished with him now’.”

Alongside training Steve and his wife Susan, a classroom assistant, would accompany their son to athletics meetings most weekends across the UK through the summer.

Through the autumn, winter and spring they would support their other sons – Darren, now 23, and Stephen, now 22 – who were keen footballers.

While they continued to achieve on the pitch their older brother began to make a mark on the track.

“His first major success was when he won silver in the European under-20s and it was then I realised then he had something special,” said Steve.

“It’s a strange feeling but it grows gradually. At 15 he was West Wales hurdling champion, at 17 Wales champion, then British champion. It builds up gradually.

“There are days I walk into the newspaper shop and Dai’s face is staring at me and I think ‘good grief’.

“I watch TV and his advert comes up. It is very strange. Years ago, when Dai was about 18, I was bringing him home from training and he turned to me and said, ‘Dad, you know in years to come you won’t be known as Steve Greene, you’ll be known as Dai Greene’s dad’.

“But our Dai isn’t arrogant and people who know him say they can’t believe he said that.

“It wasn’t arrogance, it was honesty and confidence. He just wants to go on and on.”

But in 2006 when he met his girlfriend at athletics team training at Cardiff University he was working in McDonald’s earning £4 an hour.

When he was unable to get funding for his training he worked at high street clothes retailer Next to support himself.

And during the last Olympics in Beijing four years ago he was on the track at a British League meet in Derby, refusing to let go of his dream of making it to the top.

Sian, 27, said: “It really goes to show how much determination Dai has. Things have not always been handed to him on a plate but he has worked hard and made sacrifices.”

Sian, who lives with Dai in Bath, added: “It is unbelievable to think how far he has come. No one deserves a gold more than him.”

While Greene’s loved ones and thousands of Team GB fans will be roaring him on in the stadium later, his local pub back home in Llanelli will be packed with fans following the race.

The Harry Watkin pub in Felinfoel will play host to dozens of fans – as well as a cardboard cutout of Greene himself.

Landlady Linda Cross said: “We so much want Dai to win a medal and I am sure if he wins gold we will blow the roof here with the emotion. People have been touching his cutout and kissing it for good luck.”

Next page: Can Dai Greene win gold tonight?

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