Dai Greene celebrates Britain's first gold medal at the World Athletics Championships.
Dai Greene's brutal regime earns gold at World Athletics Championships
A harsh training programme ensured Britain's ai Greene was too strong for the world's best 400m hurdlers
By Andy Bull in Daegu
Thursday 1 September 2011
Bath is a pretty place, but Dai Greene admits there is part of him that hates it there. For the past two years he has been training on Claverton Down, the tallest of the seven hills that surround the city. Up there at the Bath University campus the wind whips in from the Bristol Channel and the rain comes in sideways, in sheets. That is where Greene sweats and strains through session after session, building his stamina and honing his techniques, while his great, gruff coach, Malcolm Arnold, looks on.
Greene's gold was the 66th major medal of Arnold's career, so he knows a thing or two about winning. He has a simple formula. No secrets, no gimmicks. "Winning," says Arnold, "means you are willing to go longer, work harder and give more than anyone else." And that is what Greene has been doing since he moved away from the Welsh valleys. "My confidence, it is not unfounded," Greene says. "It comes from knowing I've done the hard work before I get here."
There are times, lots of them, when he wonders why he does it. Now he knows the answer. It is for moments like this: the world championship final, 100 metres and two hurdles to go. To his right is Felix Sanchez, two-times world champion and an Olympic gold medallist. One lane beyond Sanchez was the South African LJ van Zyl, who has run the four fastest times in the world this year. To Greene's left was Bershawn Jackson, world champion in 2005, and a way away inside him in lane one was Angelo Taylor, double Olympic champion. Out in front of them all was Javier Culson, the Puerto Rican who was a silver medallist at Berlin in 2009.
All five men have run quicker than Greene this year. But, as he said, "after three races in four days this was not about fast times". It was the slowest final in the history of the world championships. But his time of 48.26sec does not bother him. "I don't care about times. It is more about medals." This final was not about who was fastest, but who was best under pressure. The athletes were made to wait for 12 long minutes between coming out on to the track and starting the race, because of the two faulty starts. Greene says that was why he started slowly. "I had such a sluggish start in the first half of the race. I realised when I got to 250m that I was behind and so I had to get my arse into gear."
Jackson had responded in the opposite way, and blasted through the first 100m. It was the first of many mistakes made by Greene's competitors. Jackson clipped two hurdles down the back straight and was burned out by the time he rounded the bend.
Everyone else was chasing Culson. But Greene was the only one who did not panic. "In the hurdles if you are half a metre off the pace then you can really bugger it up," Greene said. "So I knew I had to concentrate really hard on that 10th hurdle." Afterwards Van Zyl admitted that "when Dai closed up I lost concentration and knocked the ninth hurdle". Over in the inside lane, Taylor was so hell bent on running down Culson that he clattered the 10th barrier and lost his balance. "I was just trying to stay on my feet in those final few metres," Taylor said.
But Greene took them clean. And once he had done that he said he knew he had won. "I had the momentum. I'm used to digging deep. And my training is endurance based. I believed I was the strongest athlete out there." That is when all that work on the cold, wet hill outside Bath pays off. There was something inevitable about the way he ran down Culson. It was close to the perfect finish. Not that Arnold will see it that way. "Malcolm gave me a thumbs up from the stands – but from where I was it could have been anything," Greene said through a laugh. "He will probably nit-pick a few things."
Nothing has come easy for Greene. He has epilepsy, and in 2006, after he had a fit at the airport after the European Championships, he made the difficult decision to come off the drugs he was taking to keep the condition in check. "My Mum and Dad were worried, they didn't want me to come off the drugs," he said recently. "But I was adamant. It was make or break for my athletics career. I'd come to realise that I wasn't going to make it to the top of athletics while I was on it."
And as recently as three years ago, he points out, he was almost unknown and out of money, running 49.50sec. "That stood me in good stead for where I am now. I would never be able to be world champion if I didn't have those moments."
He is now on the brink of becoming one of Britain's greatest ever athletes. Commonwealth, European and world champion he wants to complete the set, to add the Olympic gold to his titles. He knows what that means. Soon he will be back on top of that hill, slogging along through the rain and wind. But as he says: "It'll be a lot easier to do winter training when I have a world gold medal on the mantelpiece."