You're a cheat! And I'll tell you to your face, gold-medal favourite Greene promises Merritt
It is a beautiful, early spring day and Bath's Royal Terrace, bathed in golden sunlight, looks magnificent.
Dai Greene, taking time out from his
preparations for London 2012, is there to enjoy the Georgian splendour
of his adopted city.
But for the 25-year-old Welshman, the
world champion and favourite for the 400metres hurdles gold medal in
August, the view is soured by the anger boiling inside him at the
prospect of coming face to face in London's Olympic Stadium with a man
he believes should not be allowed to compete there.
Track record: Dai Greene celebrates winning the World Championships
That man is LaShawn Merritt. The American is the reigning Olympic 400m champion but in the winter of 2010 he tested positive for a steroid and was thrown out of athletics for two years, a penalty later reduced to 21 months.
Merritt's offence should also have meant he was barred from the next Olympic Games for which he was available. But last October he successfully overturned the International Olympic Committee's ruling and this summer he is expected to be on the starting line in London.
Greene, likely to be picked for Britain's 400m relay squad, is so incensed at the prospect of facing an American team certain to include Merritt that last week he threatened to make an all too public demonstration of his disgust.
Cheats sometimes prosper: LaShawn Merritt celebrates his 2009 World Championship gold
'If I'm in the relay team and we reach the final then there's every chance we'll be lining up against Merritt,' said Greene. 'I'll tell you now, I'll happily go and find him at the start and tell him to his face, “You're a cheat and you shouldn't be here”.
'I'll be so motivated, so pumped up by his very presence in the race that I'd do anything I could to find myself up against him in the same leg of the relay, no matter what leg it would be.
'Let's be honest. It won't be a surprise if I'm in the relay team, it won't be a surprise if he's running for the Americans and it won't be a surprise if we're against each other in the semis or the final. So it's likely I'll get my chance to do this. And if I do, I'll take it.'
Merritt's successful plea to the Court of Arbitration of Sport gave hope to other athletes who had failed drug tests that, once they had served their bans, they would be allowed back into the Olympics.
Leading from the front: Dai Greene during the World final
Only the British Olympic Association retained a lifetime ban for drug offenders, such as sprinter Dwain Chambers and road cyclist David Millar.
That ban is being challenged at CAS in eight days by, ironically, the World Anti-doping Authority, who argue that the lifetime ban does not comply with their worldwide code.
Greene's view of fellow Briton Chambers is more sympathetic compared to his distaste for Merritt, who attempted to explain his positive test as a result of medication aimed at penis enlargement.
'What he did is a massive offence,' said Greene. 'The integrity of sport is paramount. Drug cheats are taking the places of honest athletes and that, in turn, affects sponsorship, income, and the ability to become the best. They are no more than thieves, stealing from athletes who work so hard for the love of their sport.
Back in business: Merritt in action after serving his drugs ban
'The story Merritt came out with is nonsense. And WADA's stance – the authority whose purpose is to drum out drug cheats at loggerheads with the BOA for being too severe on drug cheats – is ridiculous.
'I'm only really talking about this now because we're suddenly into Olympic year and the scenario I've painted is a very feasible one.'
Ironically, Greene has grown to respect Chambers, the current world 60m indoor champion who rebuilt his career after his two-year dope ban in 2004.
But the hurdler still insists Chambers should not be at the London Games either. 'Dwain's a nice guy who I have, actually, a lot of respect for,' he argued.
'Having got to know him, seen his remorse, heard his apologies and witnessed his total honesty, I believe he's come out of it a lot worse than most. I also think his mistake was more down to being young and impressionable. I admire how he has fought his way back to the highest level despite the abuse he received, but rules are rules and they should not make exceptions.'
He added: 'Dwain shouldn't be allowed
back into the Games, just as Merritt shouldn't have been allowed back,
and when it comes to the CAS hearing next week why should Britain dilute
their high standards because the rest of the world have lowered
Greene's willingness to take a stand against Merritt will surprise few in athletics who have seen him mature into a confident – and opinionated – competitor. His single-mindedness saw him win a contract with Swansea City at the age of 12, only for him to walk out of the club at 16.
'I didn't like the coach or his methods,' said Greene. 'I needed an arm round my shoulder but he was a kick-up-the backside merchant. I wasn't enjoying it any more so I just stopped.'
His mental strength would go on to see him deal with epilepsy. 'It was New Year's Day in 2004 and I'd had a few drinks the night before. One minute I was at home, the next I found myself in a hospital bed after what turned out to be my first seizure.
'There were others but the next bad one that comes to mind was in Magaluf the following summer on a lads' holiday. That first night I had another seizure outside the hotel. I ended up smashing my face on to the road. I lost one whole tooth, and half of a number of others, and cut and bruised my face so badly it looked like I'd been beaten up.
'At the time I lived for the weekend, like most lads that age. My football had gone and my athletics was going OK, but there was little to suggest I would end up where I am now. But I had to make lifestyle changes. It means that I don't drink that much, or if I do – and this happens to celebrate the end of a season – I have a lie-in and take it very easy the next day. An early start after an alcohol-ridden late night would provoke another seizure and I can't afford that. It will never leave me, but it's under control and has become very manageable.'
First of many: Dai Greene poses with his World medal
A silver in the European Under-23 Championships made him realise he could make something of his athletics.
'I went to the championships ranked 14th in Europe and returned with that medal. That's when I knew I was on to something.'
Seventh at the world senior championships in Berlin in 2009 was a positive surprise to most observers, but not to the super-demanding Greene.
'I ran quicker in the semis to get myself a good lane in the final but I was in uncharted territory and so nervous I barely slept the night before. When I reached the final bend I had nothing left. I was so disappointed.'
All this emotion was used as fuel the following summer. /03/03/article-0-0E44018E00000578-130_634x504.jpg” width=”634″ height=”504″ alt=”Unappealing: LaShawn Merritt after winning his appeal against an Olympic ban” class=”blkBorder” />
Unappealing: LaShawn Merritt after winning his appeal against an Olympic ban
This was evident last summer in Daegu where Greene shot past three athletes on the final straight to claim the world title and in a manner that suggested he expected nothing less.
'I've learned how to carry myself and the massive effect it has on your rivals,' he said. 'I knew I was in fantastic shape and expected to win. When I did, it confirmed to me that I can now handle being the best in the world.'
So can he handle being the man most expect to win Olympic gold in London He laughs.
'I'd be annoyed if I wasn't,' he said. 'It's what I'm going for. I wouldn't be running up the hills in winter feeling exhausted if I was aiming for a bronze and then listening to the American anthem on the podium. I'm the world champion. I should be favourite.
'Nothing is a given in sport, though. All I can do is make sure that I'm in the best shape and form possible, and that if I do line up at the start of the Olympic final in August, I'll know I've done everything I can to get me there. Then, I promise you, it will take some effort to beat me.'
Of that there is little doubt. And while the world's other top hurdlers will be fearing Greene, so too might an American one lap runner who, if the Welshman gets his way, will be seeing him in London.