Sport

Matt Hudson‑Smith shows his class in successful 400m European title defence

World bronze. Commonwealth silver. And now European gold. On a balmy night in Munich, Matt Hudson‑Smith not only became the first British athlete to win a treble of medals across three major championships in the same summer, he did so in style. As he crossed the line in a one-sided 400m final in 44.53sec, the field were gasping far behind him.

But this night was not only about making history for Hudson-Smith. It was about something deeper. In 2014 he won this event as a teenager, and when he defended it successfully in 2018 many expected him to soar into the sporting stratosphere. But in 2019 he tore his hamstring and achilles. In 2020 he racked up medical debts in the US and his mental health issues worsened. In 2022, however, he has been an athlete reborn.

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“Last year was a big low,” he said. “You fight a lot of struggles and I’m pretty sure everyone in the world has been fighting their own demons. I’ve had a lot of great people around me. I’m a 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.”

But Hudson-Smith insisted his struggles did not make him a role model. “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’ve made mistakes as well in my lifetime. 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.”

Hudson-Smith had finished third at the world championships in July behind the American Michael Norman and the Grenadian Kirani James. But his hopes of winning Commonwealth gold on his home track then went up in smoke when the unheralded Zambian teenager Muzala Samukonga flew home to pip him on the line. However in Munich there were no hidden dangers waiting to strike. The Brit was the class act of a weak field and it showed.

Alex Haydock-Wilson celebrates his bronze medal in the 400m
Alex Haydock-Wilson, who is preparing to start his PhD on solar panels, celebrates his bronze medal in the 400m. Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

For the first 200m he tracked the Dutch athlete Liemarvin Bonevacia in the lane outside him, before easing clear around the final bend to win in 44.53sec. The Swiss athlete Ricky Petrucciani took second in 45.03. Another Briton, Alex Haydock-Wilson secured bronze in 45.17.

“I’ve taken the scenic route,” said Haydock-Wilson, who is about to embark on a PhD on improving solar panels to make them more resistant to dust. “It’s just taking each season as it comes and never being the person that people point to and say this is the guy who is going to do whatever or break the British record. But always having this stubborn, indomitable belief that I will somehow end up at the top one day.”

Asked whether his PhD was designed to help save the country given the energy crisis, he smiled. “I’m trying my best. We can’t have any more 39C days!”

But there was no further joy for Britain in the third day of athletic competition with Victoria Ohuruogu coming fourth in the women’s 400m and Andrew Pozzi sixth in the 110m hurdles.

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