EUROPEAN ATHLETICS: Williams complete medal collection with 400m hurdles gold
RHYS Williams upgraded his silver from two years ago, kept the European 400m hurdles title in British hands and all but booked his Team GB place in Helsinki. No wonder he was smiling.
SUCCESS: Rhys Williams should have done enough to book his Olympic place with 400m hurdles gold at the European Championships (Getty Images)
After taking a tumble in the final of last week's trials in Birmingham, Williams knew his Olympic dream would depend on success in the chilly Finnish capital.
His first target was to beat team-mate Nathan Woodward - which he did with ease - and then he focussed on a podium upgrade of his 2009 performance in Barcelona.
He clocked 49.33 seconds to follow the absent Dai Greene as European champion while Serbia's Emir Bekric and Ukraine's Stanislav Melnykov completed the podium.
"The feeling is one of relief more than anything. I have European bronze, I've won European silver and I've won the juniors, I didn't think it would take me nine years to win a senior title though," he said.
"I really wanted to make the most of this opportunity, I always wanted to come here and treat it like a major championships and try and win.
"This is a stepping stone, I know I can go a bit quicker because I clipped a couple of hurdles."
Woodward, his spirit broken as Williams streaked clear, finished a disconsolate seventh - but still tried to be upbeat about his week's work.
"I've been in my first senior championship final, I would have liked it to have gone better but all the same it’s a good experience," he said.
"I didn’t perform and Rhys has performed so huge congratulations to him. Obviously I would have preferred it to have been me but you’ve got to give credit where credit is due."
Elsewhere, Lynsey Sharp timed her dash for the line almost to perfection but will still miss the Olympics despite winning 800m silver.
Just days after her surprise victory over two laps at the trials in Birmingham, Sharp found herself in her first major final in Helsinki.
She seemed out of contention after being badly bumped on the first lap and was 20 metres off the medals coming down the home straight.
But as others tired she surged through the field, crossing the line in a new 2:00.52 personal best to take second, as Yelena Arzhakova continued Russian domination of the event with gold.
No-one could argue that Sharp doesn't fulfil the selectors' criteria of 'current form' after the last week but unfortunately her times are just not quick enough.
Marilyn Okoro, Emma Jackson and former world medallist Jenny Meadows have all achieved the A standard qualifying time in the selection window, even if major doubts persist about the latter two's fitness.
It seems rough justice on Sharp, who is clearly a fast-improving and in-form athlete, who can also cope with pressure situations.
However, the selection guidelines are clear - and her only chance is if officials decide to take her to the Games and no-one else, a highly unlikely scenario.
"I'm totally speechless, it still hasn’t sunk in," insisted Sharp.
"I came into this and I didn’t want to put pressure on myself to do the time, I'm so happy with the silver, I just never expected it.
"Later on I will probably be a bit frustrated at getting a PB and being so close to the A standard though.
"I know it’s there, the time is definitely in me and I'm so close to it. I think come the Games I would be in the best form of my life, so that's frustrating."
Fellow Scot Lee McConnell finished fifth in the women's 400m final while Chris Clarke and Danny Talbot both progressed to the 200m final.
It's a decade since McConnell's breakthrough bronze in the event in Munich but her time of 52.20 secs, 0.65 of a second slower than her Olympic selection standard target, means she is not eligible to join Christine Ohuruogu and Shana Cox, who are both guaranteed their individual slots.
"I am a bit disappointed and frustrated because I felt that I had a little bit more to give," she insisted.
"I knew it was going to be tough having run two races last weekend and then three more races out here.
"I'm in better shape now than I was last week and I'm looking forward to the relay this weekend and at the Olympics as well.
"We will have to see what team they want to run. I have had a fantastic time over the years running the relays and that’s not going to change any time soon."
* Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Usain Bolt suffered a big upset in the 100m final at the Jamaican Olympic trials when he was beaten by Yohan Blake who clocked 9.75 seconds.
But the Olympic champion insisted there was no cause for alarm as Asafa Powell claimed third to also book his Olympic place.