It has been a long time since a British 400m hurdler has broken 48 seconds. 18 years in fact. But here in the Poljud Stadium in Split – the same track where UK record-holder Kriss Akabusi struck gold in 1990 – Greene became the 37th member of the elite sub-48 club, scoring a surprise victory at the IAAF / VTB Bank Continental Cup.
Greene was a finalist at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Berlin, and has built on that this year by cementing his status as European No.1, confirming it with a dominating display in Barcelona to win European gold in 48.12.
But on the Samsung Diamond League circuit, he has had to play second fiddle to the might of the USA, particularly World leader Bershawn Jackson. The US Champion was not so fortunate here, however, and clattered the final hurdle as Greene strode to victory.
“Bershawn has only been beaten by one other person, Kerron Clement, this season, so to be one of just two people to beat him feels good and gives me a lot of confidence,” said Greene. “In Barcelona I was expected to win, but here I didn’t have the same pressure.”
Despite Jackson getting off to a flying start, a minor distraction helped Greene take his focus off his big rival. “My lane sticker came off during the race and got stuck to my calf, which distracted me,” said Greene. “I was thinking: ‘That sticker is annoying me... hurdle! Ouch, the sticker is pulling out my leg hairs... hurdle!’”
Hurdles guru Arnold the key to breakthrough
Greene’s career has taken a marked upward curve since he linked up two years ago with renowned hurdles coach Malcolm Arnold – former coach to 1972 Olympic 400m Hurdles Champion John Akii-Bua and two-time World 110m Hurdles Champion Colin Jackson. The Welshman soon reaped the rewards and broke 49 seconds for the first time in Prague last year.
Fast forward 15 months and Greene has now taken down the 48-second barrier with his 47.88 clocking in Split – just 0.06 away from Akabusi’s record. “I reckon there’s definitely another tenth of a second there and the national record is definitely within reach now,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s something that I have targeted, but I wasn’t thinking about it today.
Stepping up to a new level
“I usually run my best at Championships, so I think Malcolm will be surprised with the 47.88,” added Greene. “For years I’ve been intimidated by sub-48 guys, but now I’m one of them hopefully other athletes will look at me in the same way.”
But how come Greene is only showing this form now, as the athletics season is drawing to a close? “I had six weeks out between February and March, which is part of the reason why I have peaked later this year,” explained Greene. “I got to Barcelona in really good shape, but three weeks after the Europeans I was in even better shape and I’ve really kicked up a gear.
“It wasn’t necessarily reflected in my races on the circuit after Barcelona, but I was flying in training and recovering well from the sessions and needed less physio treatment, which is how I knew I was in such good shape. Malcolm was quite surprised with how well I was doing.
“This year I’ve been able to go through hurdle five a lot faster than I have done before,” he added. “But it’s hard to execute your racing strategy at high intensity because I’m still getting used to running at this level.”
Commonwealths the next goal
It is not quite the end of the year for Greene, and fortunately he will have the chance to capitalise on his good form at next month’s Commonwealth Games in Delhi. There he sees South Africa’s LJ van Zyl, and not fellow Welshman Rhys Williams, as his biggest rival.
“I’m going to get another good block of training in before Delhi. I think at the Commonwealths the gold medal will be between me and van Zyl. I know he didn’t do too well today, but he has been training all year for the Commonwealths, so I think he’s the only serious threat,” said Greene.
But should Greene continue to fly in training, the long-standing National Record could well be on its last legs. And ‘Batman’ Jackson could have a new arch rival.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF