Matthew Hudson-Smith wins European 400m gold a year after suicide attempt

·4-min read
Matthew Hudson-Smith wins European 400m gold a year after suicide attempt - PA
Matthew Hudson-Smith wins European 400m gold a year after suicide attempt - PA

From the unimaginable low of attempting to take his own life almost exactly a year ago, Matthew Hudson-Smith completed a spectacular - and record-breaking - summer by adding European 400 metres gold to his Commonwealth silver and world bronze, all won in the space of 26 days. Then he promptly delivered a message that was far more important than any medal.

“You fight a lot of struggles and I’m pretty sure everyone in the world has been fighting their own demons,” he said. “I’m testimony that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

“You just have to stick through it and the results will show. Everyone who is going through struggles, just fight through it and you will come through.”

It was immediately after winning his world bronze last month that Hudson-Smith decided to reveal the depths of his problems to the wider world, responding to a routine question by saying: “Not a lot of people know this, but I literally attempted suicide. These three years have been absolute hell.”

It was a disarming moment of openness from someone whose struggles ran far deeper than all outside his inner circle were aware.

A series of injuries had left him unable to trust his body, and he soon racked up significant medical debts attempting to have them fixed. At around the same time, he was dropped by his sponsor and a number of people he was close to in the sport passed away.

When the Covid pandemic struck, he found himself isolated in Florida, where he trains, away from family and friends, when all he wanted was to be back home in Birmingham. The problems mounted and combined until they were too much to take.

Matthew Hudson-Smith of Great Britain, celebrates after winning the men's 400m final during day 7 - GETTY IMAGES
Matthew Hudson-Smith of Great Britain, celebrates after winning the men's 400m final during day 7 - GETTY IMAGES

Thankfully, he found the necessary support and has come back stronger, becoming the first British athlete to win medals at three different major championships in the same summer, and retaining the European title he won in 2018.

From the outset in Munich, he had a sense of someone attending to business. Where almost all of his rivals danced their way onto the track for their pre-race entrance, Hudson-Smith could not have been more steely-faced, refusing to alter from his all-encompassing focus and ignoring the camera as he walked to his blocks.

Level with his medal rivals at the halfway stage of the race, he then burned them on the final bend and left them in his wake down the finishing straight for a wide-margin victory.

Gold was claimed in 44.53 seconds - faster than he ran in the world and Commonwealth finals - ahead of the fast-finishing Ricky Petrucciani, of Switzerland, who took silver in 45.03sec. Alex Haydock-Wilson ensured a double British presence on the podium by clinging on to the narrowest of bronzes in 45.17sec.

Of becoming a role model by speaking so openly about his battles, Hudson-Smith said: “I’m just trying to be real. It is nice being known as a role model, but I’m not going out of my way to do that.

“I’m just a human being making mistakes like everyone. But I am open about it. It’s quite a taboo subject as a man. Not a lot of people speak about it.”

Something of a late developer at 23, Haydock-Wilson has quietly progressed in recent years, steadily knocking small chunks off his personal best each season.

Now, before heading home to embark on a PhD on ‘Improving solar panels to make them more resistant to dust’, he has made the World Championships semi-final and earned a European bronze in the space of a few weeks.

“I’ve taken the scenic route, just taking each season as it comes and never being the person that people point to,” he said. “But I’ve always had this stubborn, indomitable belief that I will somehow end up at the top one day.”

Asked whether his research might end up solving the energy crisis, he joked: “I’m trying my best. We can’t have any more 39-degree days!”

Victoria Ohuruogu ended her brilliant breakthrough season by finishing fourth in the women’s 400m. Having only broken 52 seconds once in her life prior to this year, Ohuruogu has seen huge improvement under the guidance of her sister Christine as coach, knocking her personal best down to 50.50sec, winning Commonwealth silver and narrowly missing the podium in Munich.