It has been a difficult path to get there but British 400m runner Matthew Hudson-Smith can now reflect with satisfaction on a stellar season.
The 27-year-old backed up a bronze medal at the World Championships in July with a silver in Birmingham at the Commonwealth Games weeks later, before defending his European title in Munich last week. He also shared in 4x400m relay gold in the Bavarian city.
It is a far cry from last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, where Hudson-Smith was Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s only entered competitor in the men’s one-lap event. He wouldn’t take to the start line in the Japanese capital on medical grounds.
He has since stated how last year was the culmination of a period of personal turmoil. “2019 I tore my Achilles, tore my hamstring, messed up my hip,” he said. “2020 was Covid. Huge mental health issues in 2021. Not a lot of people know this, but I literally attempted suicide.”
Those bombshell remarks came after the Wolverhampton-born athlete won his bronze at the Worlds. They were in stark contrast to his joy at becoming the first British man to win a 400m medal at the championships since Roger Black in 1991.
They also served as a reminder to onlookers of just how impactful the pandemic had been, not least on athletes who had suffered a series of injuries on the track ahead of Covid-19.
But Hudson-Smith looks to be in a new headspace now, and it’s reaping rewards on the track. Success in Munich, where the Briton defended a title won in Berlin four years earlier, represented the completion of a circle marked by extreme physical and mental hardship.
“Imagine stepping on the line knowing you’re hurt. You have a whole load of pressure because everyone expects a lot from you,” he said at the World Championships in Eugene. “I talked to a lot of people about not doing the sport.”
From his bronze in Oregon, Hudson-Smith secured a silver at the Commonwealth Games, where 30,000 spectators in Birmingham roared the West Midlands boy on to second place behind Zambian teen sensation Muzala Samukonga.
The Commonwealths, with fields missing the Americans, are easy to see as a step down in standard. But the consistency Hudson-Smith showed by winning medals at two major meets just weeks apart was admirable.
And earlier this month he went one step further in ensuring he reigned supreme across one lap in the Europeans, where he won by half a second.
“Last year was a big low,” he said after the race. “I’m a testimony that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”
Hudson-Smith’s ode to himself was also about the human condition, and how persistence and determination combined with a chunk of hope can make a difference.
He has got a solid bend technique and the speed on the straights. Next year he will have another chance at a World Championships medal, and at Paris 2024 a shot at closing the book of his past demons with an Olympic medal.
Based on this summer, who’s to tell a determined character like Hudson-Smith that he cannot do it?