Matt Hudson-Smith on battling adversity and ‘going from hunting to being the hunted’

·4-min read
Matt Hudson-Smith looks to defend his European title in Munich this week  (Getty Images)
Matt Hudson-Smith looks to defend his European title in Munich this week (Getty Images)

From “absolute hell” to sheer jubilation, this summer has seen the breakthrough and transformation of Matt Hudson-Smith into a world class 400m contender. Lingering heel pain has finally subsided and consistency has followed: bronze at the World Championships in Eugene, a silver homecoming in Birmingham at the Commonwealth Games, but, crucially, a taste of what could soon follow in what is still a fledgling career at the event.

The defending European champion eyes gold this week to complete the set in 2022, but the 27-year-old has already achieved a sense of belonging, rubbing shoulders with world champion Michael Norman, former Olympic champion Kirani James and the return of world record holder Wayde Van Niekerk, as the event enjoys a resurgence.

There has been admirable resilience to be in this position after contending with injuries, Covid, losing his sponsor, moving to the US and dealing with grief after the loss of his coach Lloyd Cowan and physiotherapist-turned-performance director Neil Black.

“Not a lot of people know this but I literally attempted suicide,” Hudson-Smith said after fending off Champion Allison and Van Niekerk to win bronze in Oregon.

It is Hudson-Smith’s story alone and despite his candidness, the Briton, while happy to interact with those who can relate to his journey, remains focused on his own progress and a new lease of life after adding a silver to his resume in Birmingham.

Hudson-Smith recovers after the World Championships final (Getty Images for World Athletics)
Hudson-Smith recovers after the World Championships final (Getty Images for World Athletics)

“I’m just being me,” he tells The Independent, eager to book a place in Wednesday night’s 400m final at the Olympiastadion. “I’m not trying to be somebody new who people can relate to. I’m being me and comfortable in my own skin to be honest. If people relate to it, then they relate to it.

“I’m enjoying the process, it’s nice when people relate to me and tell me their stories. But at the same time, I’m not trying to be anything I’m not, what you see is what you get.

“Adversity builds character at the end of the day. I’ve been through a lot and built a lot of character. This is just running. Every experience you go through leaves a mark. I’ve learned to grow as a person. I’m taking those life experiences onto the track and developing not just as an athlete, but as a whole person.”

It’s not just medals either, after taking down Iwan Thomas’s long-standing 400m British record with a blazing 44.35 run in the Eugene Diamond League, Hudson-Smith is eager to set up camp under the daunting 45-second barrier, a goal he feels can solidify himself as a perennial force at major championships. That progress has come while carefully polishing a 400m game that continues to rapidly improve despite only pursuing the event three years ago aged 24, eradicating natural mistakes along the way.

Samukonga edges out Hudson-Smith for gold in Birmingham (Getty)
Samukonga edges out Hudson-Smith for gold in Birmingham (Getty)

“I spoke a lot about consistency, and obviously now it’s starting to show,” he says, while crediting his switch to Puma. “One of my biggest issues was I couldn’t race due to a lot of injuries. The whole mindset was to be consistent in the 44-range and to obviously compete.

“When you run 44 seconds every week, that’s obviously a big jump. I’m still relatively young in the event, in terms of experience, I’m underdeveloped, you see the mistakes but I’m making mistakes and getting onto podiums.

“It’s strange, when Kirani and Norman weren’t there, I was the top person. After the Games I flipped my mindset. I’m not here to challenge, I’m here to win. Everything has changed. Worlds was a shot in the dark, we learned what we needed to do. Commonwealths, I went from hunting to being the hunted. I’m excited to put it all together now.”

Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith celebrates with his medal after winning bronze (AFP via Getty Images)
Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith celebrates with his medal after winning bronze (AFP via Getty Images)

Hudson-Smith’s breakthrough has not gone unnoticed either; the legendary Michael Johnson could not hide his delight while covering his success as a pundit, with the four-time Olympic champion influencing the Wolverhampton man’s journey in the sport.

“We’ve had a good relationship since the moment I jumped onto the scene,” Hudson-Smith concludes. “He gave me a lot of advice. I’m a student of the sport. You have to be if you want to master it.

“It’s the route I’m taking, learn every single bit I can. I take a bit of everything from everybody and try to put it onto my own race. I’m still learning at the end of the day, Michael, he’s won it all and I’m trying to emulate him.”