We thought the fight was real for Matthew Hudson-Smith for an extraordinary 44 seconds at Hayward Field as he battled lactic acid in his legs and fire in his lungs. Really, however, we had no idea. No idea at all.
Moments after the 27-year-old from Birmingham finished the run of his life with a world 400m bronze medal around his neck and a smile that suggested glorious catharsis, he revealed the shocking truth about how everything had almost gone permanently black.
“Not many people know this, but I literally tried to kill myself.” And then, all of a sudden, everything fell apart. How he had suffered tremendous mental health issues. Got into significant financial debt in the United States due to injury. Lost its sponsors. And, after being isolated in America during Covid, began to slide dangerously to the edge.
“In 2018, I won the Europeans even though everything didn’t go as planned,” he explained. “In 2019, I tore my Achilles tendon, I tore my hamstring, I messed up my hip. I was in huge debt because I didn’t have US health insurance. During Covid in 2020 I was stuck in America on my own, and in 2021 I had massive mental health issues.
The loss of two of his mentors, former British athletics head coach Neil Black and his close friend Lloyd Cowan, also stung him deeply. But then, thankfully, a close team of friends, family and confidants managed to pull him from the brink. “I was unable to participate in the Olympics for several reasons,” he said. “I was also running knowing that I was injured all the time. But it was also mental. A lot of people would have snapped.
Even when the worst was over, he thought about quitting. “My mom and my girlfriend were, like, ‘give it a year,'” he said. “I was going to become an electrician. Fortunately, he then found a new sponsor in Puma and was able to repay his debts.
And after a year without injury or doubt, Hudson-Smith was able to light up Eugene in a much more dramatic way: by finally showing the world the depth of his talent and determination. He was helped along the way by a chance encounter with legendary Mexico 1968 gold medalist Tommie Smith, one of the most fluid sprinters on the track as well as a powerful advocate for social change.
He had seen the Briton lose focus in his semi-final, when he started to look around before the line, and offered him some urgent advice for the final. “He said to me, ‘Don’t look left, don’t look right, look straight ahead,’ explained Hudson-Smith, who listened and learned, then delivered.
Coming out of the final corner, Hudson-Smith was surrounded by three others who smelled a medal. American Michael Norman, the fourth fastest man in history. Kirani James, from Granada, world and Olympic champion. And world record holder Wayde van Niekirk.
In such exalted company, many would have panicked. Especially when Norman broke away to take gold in 44.29 seconds, ahead of James who took silver in 44.48 seconds. But as Van Niekerk began to fade and fifth-placed athlete, champion Allison, began to soar, Hudson-Smith held on to her form to claim a brilliant bronze medal in 44.66 seconds.
“My coach said he already knew Champion was coming in the end,” he said. “And then I felt someone outside of me. In my head, I thought, ‘Just take out Champion.’
“I was just looking forward to it,” he added. “Then I had an anxious wait. But when I saw my name and I fell down because those three years have been absolute hell.
As Hudson-Smith crossed the line, he received his medal from Iwan Thomas – the British record holder for 25 years until Hudson-Smith passed him in May. Her face told you there couldn’t be a sweeter moment.
Afterwards, Hudson-Smith also praised another mentor, former Olympic 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu, as well as her “best friend” Dina Asher-Smith, who bounced and roared in the main stand as he won his first world medal.
This moment was the culmination of a remarkable journey that began when Hudson-Smith was a teenager working at Asda in 2014. At that time, he was about to join the army after failing the British trial . Instead of a sliding door moment, he sent his life in another direction.
When Michael Bingham left the Glasgow Diamond League, Hudson-Smith was the unlikely stranger chosen to compete with the best in the world. “I called Asda and said I wasn’t coming back,” he said. “They said I could come back anytime but I said ‘no, I’m not coming back’. That weekend I ran 44 seconds over 400m.
In the blink of an eye, Hudson-Smith then anchored the England relay team to gold at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and won individual silver at the European Championships. People were talking about him as the next superstar in British athletics. Instead of injury and trouble, he was knocked sideways and backwards.
At 27, some had felt that the Hudson-Smith moment had slipped away forever. Now, however, he dreams of better days and brighter medals.
“People know my talent,” he said. “People know what I can offer. You saw me running 44.3 now consecutively. This is my first chance at a medal on the world stage. Lots of people grow from here. This is my first year with my trainer. Everything is possible.”
Anything, yes. And all.
In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 and the domestic violence helpline is on 0808 2000 247. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is on 13 11 14 and the national domestic violence counseling service at 1800 737 732. , the suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence helpline is 1-800 -799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via www.befrienders.org.
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