Owen Smith has reflected on a dream first Great Britain appearance.
The former Deeside AAC member from Sychdyn made his Team GB debut in the IAAF World Championships.
And, while he was slightly disappointed he was unable to medal, he left the massive Birmingham event thrilled by the experience and confident for the future.
Smith was part of the new men’s 4x400m relay squad that also comprised Lee Thompson, Jamal Rhoden-Stevens, Grant Plenderleith, Sebastian Rodger and Efe Okoro.
Pundits did not expect the squad to reach the final, given their lack of preparation and given the level of competition across the top-class field.
But they proved they could be ones to watch in the future after putting in excellent displays over the weekend.
Smith, Rodger, Rhoden-Stevens and Plenderleith lined-up in Saturday’s heat in which they finished second to a USA team unbeaten at the IAAF World Championships since 2004.
The quartet’s finish of 3:05:29 was the fourth fastest indoor 4x400m time in the history of British athletics and the fastest ever recorded on British soil.
It also ensured they qualified for Sunday’s final as the fourth fastest team behind the USA, Belgium and Poland.
And what an incredible final it proved to be as Poland produced one of the biggest upsets in the event’s history to end America’s stranglehold on the 4x400m title and claim gold in a world record time of 3:01:77.
The GB team of Smith, Plenderleith, Rhoden-Stevens and Thompson had to settle for sixth but their time of 3:05:08 was even better than they one they had produced in the heat.
“It was my first major games and, given it was in front of a home crowd, it was pretty special to say the least,” said Smith, who took the first leg for both races.
“The BBC wrote us off even before we got out on the track. They were saying, ‘these guys have got no chance, and even the fastest loser spot is probably out of reach for them’.
“So when we ran 3:05, they were like, ‘no way, that’s actually pretty quick’, and it turned out to be the fastest time run by a British team on UK soil.
“Then they kind of wrote us off for the final but we went quicker.
“Maybe we could have got a little bit closer but when two teams go under the previous world record mark and the four other teams all end up with national records it is a little bit difficult. It would have taken us to break the (overall) British record by a second and a half to get bronze.”
Smith earned his maiden GB call-up after clocking a season’s best 47:03 at the Vienna Indoor Classic in January.
And the 23-year-old, who is second only to Thompson in the British Athletics 400m rankings, said: “On the Thursday morning we had 10 minutes to practise changing over the batons between us. Then before we went into the core room on the Saturday for the heat we practised changeovers for 5-10 minutes.
“So, in total, we had maybe half an hour’s worth of practise, whereas the likes of Poland had been together for six months. When you compare that, it’s a big difference.
“But we weren’t a million miles away, and we do believe we can get closer, so hopefully we can keep this together.”
Smith will undergo warm weather training in Tenerife next month in preparation for the outdoor season.
But he already has one eye on the winter season and the European Indoor Championships in Glasgow in March 2019.
“There will be more people looking to break into the team but I think we need to look to keep the core of the team together as it clearly worked for us,” said Smith, who is now based near Cardiff.
“Discarding the Americans, we beat some high quality teams in the heats and we were up against some world class runners in the final.
“The Czechs had the overall 400m champion from the competition [Pavel Maslak], the US had the silver medallist [Michael Cherry], and Trinidad had the bronze medallist [Deon Lendore], so it’s not as if we were running against average runners.
“It was surreal being in the core room with them but that’s the level you want to be at so you just embrace it as much as you can.
“The crowd support was amazing. Until you hear it, you don’t realise exactly how much a difference it makes. When it starts to hurt, you’re willing to dig that little bit deeper because you’ve got all these people screaming you on because you’re the British team.
“It probably said a lot that we went into the weekend with an outside chance of making the final that we came out of it disappointed we did not win a medal.
“But, considering we’re a relatively new team, we should have high hopes moving forward.”
It was a long way from Deeside AAC, the place where it all started for the former Ysgol Maes Garmon student.
But Smith, who now competes for Cardiff AAC, said: “I’ve put a lot what I’ve learned down to Deeside AAC. It’s a great club with a great history which looks after its athletes.
“The big thing for me was the move to Cardiff. It was a big decision and ultimately it’s paid off.
“But I wouldn’t have been in the position to move if I had not have had the backing and support I got at Deeside.”