He’s now 35 years old and it’s a decade since he was champion of the world, but don’t bother asking Dai Greene to slow down. The Welsh hurdler is not just looking at squeezing into Olympic contention this summer, but has his plans for next year, too, – both on and off the track as he tells Owen Morgan.
A cool early summer evening at the University of Birmingham may have been a world away from a global 400m hurdles final in South Korea, but Dai Greene was just happy to be back competing.
The last time the 400m hurdles champion at the 2011 Daegu World Championships stepped onto a track in anger was in August of last year – the only time he competed outdoors during the whole of 2020.
You’d have to go back even further – August 2019 – to find Greene’s last proper series of races.
Even then, he only raced half a dozen times all year.
Wednesday evening’s University of Birmingham Series event may have been relatively low key, but it was a hugely welcome opportunity for Greene to hurdle competitively again and take the first step back towards running at the highest level.
Speaking the morning after from his farm in the Midlands, the Swansea Harrier said of his season opener: “It was strange to be honest, being back out competing.
“I feel like I haven’t done it for a long time. But it was nice. It was good to be back, to see some friendly faces.
Modified Romanian Deadlift that coach @hurdlesub13 had me doing. Excellent for hitting the hamstrings.
Works the hammys with just a fraction of the load of a typical RDL. Also less stress on lower back👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/pIvi79xOEZ
— Dai Greene (@DaiGreene) April 28, 2021
“I could do with another few weeks of training to be where I need to be. But other than that, it was quite enjoyable.”
Dogged by a series of injuries and setbacks in recent years, Greene is currently trying to overcome a long-standing hip problem, but is optimistic he is on the right track, despite the issue raising its head again on Wednesday.
However, it wasn’t enough to deny Greene a winning return in a time of 51.18 as he warmed up for the 60th Ostrava Golden Spike Meeting – part of the World Athletics Continental Tour – in the Czech Republic on May 19.
Greene said: “I’m glad I did it. I knew on the day that my hip wasn’t right but I went through the process of it. It’s put me in better position for next week. That’s for sure. That will be a true test in my ability in Ostrava.”
The 35-year-old conceded he wasn’t entirely happy with his performance or the condition of his hip in Birmingham.
“Not really. I’ve had the hip issue for the last while so I’m just trying to work through what’s causing it.
“It just means that I pretty much don’t have full power on one side. And it just slows me down a bit. But it was good to try and test it in that sort of low key environment, ahead of some bigger races on the horizon.
“I can try and problem-solve that with my physios and my team and then hopefully do better next time.
“It’s been a difficult road to be fair, because different elements seem to be feeding into it, we haven’t found the one cause.
“But we’ve made some progress in the last few weeks in terms of some injections into my back, which have really helped.
“So now I feel like there’s not many other things that can feed into it. So yeah, a bit more hopeful.
“Even though it’s been on and off for a long period of time, I’m more hopeful we can fix it in the next few weeks.”
Frustratingly, Greene’s hip was feeling much better as we chatted on Thursday than it had on race day.
But the Llanelli athlete hopes this is a positive.
“The hip felt so much better today, in stark contrast to the race yesterday, so yeah, definitely more hopeful of better performances in the coming weeks.
“It’s a mixed bag if I’m being honest. Some days my hip’s been good, some days it’s not. Sadly, yesterday was not quite there.
“But I’m hopeful that it’ll be better. And I know that the people around me are trying everything they can.”
Greene doesn’t have all the support he once had as a Great Britain funded athlete and because he lives outside Wales it has been more difficult to access the practical support and services available to him through Welsh Athletics.
— Dai Sport (@Dai_Sport_) March 2, 2018
“It can be difficult to try and fix the problem. But everyone’s quite positive that we’re moving in the right direction. I’m probably more of a glass half full sort of person than half empty,” he said.
During his long and illustrious career, Greene has become accustomed to dealing with stubborn injuries.
“It’s difficult when things aren’t quite going your way,” said Greene. “You just want to be running, that’s the simplest thing.
“You want to be running and you want to be running well. If, for whatever reason, you can’t do it, then life isn’t as enjoyable, you don’t get that enjoyment from training.
“You certainly struggle when you compete. And it’s not quite the same experience then. So, yeah, if I can’t do that, then I’m certainly a far grumpier individual!
“But you have to be professional about it. And whenever I do have problems, I sort of approach it in a radical way, I tick the boxes and think ‘I’ve got to do this to get myself back’.
“And it becomes more of a job and more of a chore, I guess, than an enjoyment, but it’s part of the process to get back to where I need to be.”
Despite the injuries and setbacks he has experienced in recent years, including last minute withdrawal from the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with a hamstring injury, Greene has every intention of getting back to where he needs to be.
Another throwback to Barcelona 2010! 🔙
— European Athletics (@EuroAthletics) October 27, 2020
The man who agonisingly finished just outside the medals in both the 400m hurdles and 4x400m relay at the 2012 London Olympics hasn’t given up hope of competing at a second games in Tokyo later this summer – if he can gain the qualifying standard of 48.91.
Greene said: “I think it’s going to be very difficult. But I’m still hopeful. Because if I’m running this sort of time with a bad hip, I know that I can run a lot faster. It’s not really a true reflection of where I’m at.
“I know that I’m getting more exposure to hurdles and that kind of high intensity, longer reps, which I’m doing in training, then I should see my time drop as I get exposure to races and more hurdles and things like that.
“So, I’m in a good place. I’d like to be in a better place, but I’m sure all athletes would say that, but I’m still hopeful of getting the standard.”
Like all athletes, Greene’s ambitions have also been affected by the COVID pandemic, although he says he has been more fortunate than many.
Some creative training routines on his farm and access to facilities at nearby Loughborough have helped.
Greene says: “It hasn’t been as stressful maybe as other people have found it because Loughborough has pretty much stayed open the entire time for us this calendar year.
“I have had to stay away a couple of times, because maybe I’ve come into contact with somebody who has then gone down with COVID.
— FloTrack (@FloTrack) April 25, 2020
“But other than that, I can’t complain too much and know that athletes have been worse off than myself. So, yeah, it’s not ideal for everyone. Everyone’s doing the best they can. And I just look forward to getting back to normal again.”
One thing lockdown and his injury setbacks have allowed Greene to do is start preparing for life after athletics.
As well as helping his partner set up a pizza business, he has launched his own venture selling the Dai Greene Tomahawk Massage Gun, which provides muscle relief for all levels of athletes.
Greene is also helping mentor promising sports men and women on the Elite Performer Programme at Carmarthenshire’s Coleg Sir Gâr, where he was once a student.
“They’ve been positive distractions I guess in the last 12 months,” says Greene of his ventures outside the world of professional athletics.
“I think using a massage gun for the first time last year is what prompted me to pursue that.
“I saw that so many elite athletes are using them nowadays, it’s only a matter of time before they filter down and become more commonplace for people.
“And I find it incredibly useful when I can’t see the physios and massage people as much.
“And then with Coleg Sir Gâr I’ve been mentoring a few of their students, sort of advising them as they’re developing their sporting worlds, but also helping them out if I can and advising them with any issues that they have.
“Most of them have been handling lockdown incredibly well, which is great to see. They have their stuff a lot more together than I did at that age!
“But because I’ve been through it all, I’m in a good position to try and pass that on.
“So I’ve started off with Sir Gâr but ideally I’d like to look after a few more athletes because I’ve only got a few of them that I’m speaking to down there.
“It’s things like that I want to be more involved in the future as I have more free time, more energy to do those things. But I guess it is the early stages of prepping me for life after sport.”
However, Greene is far from ready to hang up his spikes.
Apart from this year’s Olympic ambitions, Greene is eyeing up next summer’s athletics calendar.
COVID-related cancellations and rescheduling means the World Athletics Championships in the USA, the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and European Championships in Munich all take place within a few action-packed weeks.
The man who has previously struck gold at all three championships said: “I think a few years ago my ambitions were to get myself to Birmingham.
“And then, obviously, the situation changed and we’ve got a World Championships next year as well.
“ So, I don’t know what I’ll be good enough for next year but the main goal was to get to the Commonwealths and run for Wales.
“But we’ll have to see how I go this year and how I progress. All I know is that I still enjoy training as much as they did when I was sort of 20 or 21.
“So it’s just whether the body sort of holds up, really. If I have a good summer, then I’ll be looking to try and do more than one championship next year.
“I feel like I’ve missed a couple of opportunities running for Wales, or if I have run, I haven’t been up to scratch in the past.
“So I know that there’s medals available in the 400 metre hurdles. There always are compared to maybe the worlds or Olympics where they were harder to attain.
“There are obviously opportunities there and to do it in the UK will be even better.
“I think to have lots of Welsh people there, the home support, that sort of thing, that would just make it even better.
11 men in a 400m on a mix of road & track – great innovation by @Great_Run and totally unpredictable result with @MartynRooney & @jamiewebb800 @andrewosagie @DaiGreene @GuyLearmonth – Athletics needs more of this…. pic.twitter.com/Jukvc5NXlb
— Pierce O’Callaghan (@Pierceathletics) September 7, 2019
“It was something I earmarked probably a couple years ago. I thought, yeah, I’ll keep going until around then.
“I’ll be a bit older, but, hopefully, I still have enough in my locker to get me there and to do a good job.”
Greene also sees medal opportunities in the 4×400 relay, with Wales boasting a crop of successful 400m runners including the likes of Great Britain internationals Joe Brier and Owen Smith.
“I think in the past, the only reason why we haven’t had four by fours is that we just haven’t got enough in terms of volume.
“In my time we’ve had some good four hurdlers knocking about but not many four flat runners.
“Obviously, that’s changed in the last few years with the likes of Joe and Owen training very well. I’m sure they will be faster by the time we get to next year as well.
“It should be okay for me to run without the hurdles by that point. It’s a bit easier than hurdling, sometimes. And I think in the Commonwealths, anything can happen.
“And because it’s in such close proximity as well to the World Champs, it might deter some of the bigger names from some of the bigger countries in the four flat, perhaps.
— Dai Greene (@DaiGreene) January 10, 2021
“You know, I’m thinking out loud here. I’m thinking, like the Botswana team is probably pretty good. So you know if they feature in America, the World Champs a week before, are they going to feature in the Commonwealth Games a week later?
“So, there’s opportunities there, I think we would have to all be fit and healthy and on top of our game because we don’t have the luxury of strength in depth at the moment.
“but it’s something I’m certainly aware of – that there is a potential there for us to do okay.”