Dai Greene: Gold Ambition

Meet Dai Greene, the Welsh wonder who's reigning World Champion in the 400m hurdles and discover his hunger for Olympic gold

by Ruth Morgan

Dai Green
The 400m hurdles is considered the toughest track event

“At uni I found people who wanted to train every day. I hadn’t realised people did that until then,” he says. “I stopped drinking, hardly ever went out and just got better and better.” In 2005, after just one year under Swedish coach Benke Blomqvist, Greene became European junior silver medallist, but his newfound dedication was sorely tested as the next two years were dogged by foot injuries. “Those years were tough,” Greene says. “I struggle when I’m not running well. It’s hard to cope with mentally.”

Money was also tight. Greene had flipped burgers to support his early career, and got by with a student loan. But the injuries, and graduating from university, meant 2008 was make-or-break. He had a very small prize money income, and low-level funding from UK Athletics, but he knew that would be cut at the end of the year if he didn’t improve. Then, halfway through winter training, Blomqvist moved back to Sweden.

Coach Class

“It was by no means a smooth year,” says Greene. “I had to stretch what little money I had, then face losing an excellent coach.” Before he left, though, Blomqvist introduced Greene to Arnold, which sparked a turnaround. “I’d just managed to get rid of my foot injuries,” Greene says. “And Malcolm and I worked well together immediately. Over six months, I knocked more than a second off my best time.”

In 2009, Greene stepped up by qualifying for the World Championship final in Berlin, finishing seventh. “Not only was I back on funding, I started to get sponsorship,” he says. “I didn’t have to worry about rent, I could buy whatever food I wanted, and I was finally reaching the potential I always knew I had.”

The 2010 season cemented his status as a contender on the world stage, with impressive wins in the Barcelona European Champs and Delhi Commonwealth Games. Then came last year’s victory in Daegu. With a confidence borne of endless training, Greene went to Korea not hoping, but expecting, to win – despite facing a field featuring five athletes with faster times than him, including two World champions and a double Olympic gold medallist.

“Coming off the last hurdle, I knew it was mine,” says Greene. “I could feel my momentum and I knew I was stronger.” The hours of pain paid off as Greene powered through the last 50m. “When I crossed the line I immediately looked up to Malcolm in the stands, looking for his approval, almost like a father figure,” he says. “My eyes went to him and inside I thought, ‘Yes!’ I felt really proud.” When Greene finally spoke to Arnold, it was two hours later. “He gave me a handshake and said, ‘Well done’,” says Greene. “Typical Malcolm, understated as ever!”

Finishing Kick

In April this year, after two weeks spent warm- weather training in Portugal, Greene was back in Bath, where he’d put in another long, hard winter on the hills and the track. Just business as usual, he insists. “I always feel I’m putting 100 per cent into my training and this year has been no different,” he says matter-of-factly.

Before the little get-together in London, he’ll be back in Diamond League action to sharpen his racing instincts and maybe secure the psychological upper- hand. “The Diamond League meets will get me competing at a high level and hopefully I can get a few victories over my rivals,” he says. Not that he’ll be worrying too much about the other contenders. “I don’t really look at my competitors as there’s nothing I can do to influence their performance,” he says. “I’ll just be focusing on getting the most out of every day. There certainly won’t be any time to relax.”

No taking it easy maybe, but Greene isn’t letting the pressure of the buildup get to him. “The extra attention doesn’t negatively affect me,” he says. “It’s just great that athletics is more in the limelight, and I’m a laid-back person so that helps.”

Rising to the Challenge

Just how laid back was tested by recent comments from US hurdler Bershawn Jackson who, in an astonishing comeback to a perceived slight from Greene, claimed his Daegu winning time was slow and that “he wrote a cheque that he can’t cash”, with the Americans ready to sweep the medals in London. The gauntlet has been well and truly thrown. “I was a little disappointed with the comments initially as I could not recall ever calling the American 400m hurdlers overrated,” Greene reflects. “They will be my main threat and I look forward to racing Bershawn again. It won’t be a negative for me though, as I love competing. This just adds a little spice.”

As you’d expect, Greene is ready for the fight. But does he have faith that he can win? “After being crowned World champion it would be foolish of me to train for anything less than gold,” he responds. “That is my goal.”

It’s a goal that would single-handedly match the disappointing single British athletics gold in Beijing, but Greene is convinced London will see a much-improved Team GB performance. “British athletics reached an all-time low in 2008, and everyone said the golden era was over, but now athletes I competed with in the juniors with are coming through and starting to blossom,” says Greene. “We want to let the British public know we’re not weak: we’re tough characters, we’re not full of excuses. In London, we’ll be there to win.”

Ever the fan of a statistic, Greene has worked out that the average age of an Olympic gold medallist in his discipline is 26.5, exactly the age he’ll be at the Games. But that’s not the only reason for Jackson & Co to be fearful. More importantly, Dai Greene is hungry. “As quickly as you achieve titles such as European or World champion, you forget about them and you set the next target,” he says. “That’s what keeps me going. I’m just so hungry for success. I want more, I always want more.”

On the next page: The greatest hurdler of all time, Edwin Moses, predicts gold for Greene.

The men's 400m hurdles final is on Monday August 6th at 20:45.

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