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Matt Hudson-Smith sees silver lining

With 20 metres to go, everything was going to plan.


              
England's Matthew Hudson- Smith with their silver medal during the medal ceremony for Men's 400m at Alexander Stadium on day ten of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham
England's Matthew Hudson- Smith with their silver medal during the medal ceremony for Men's 400m at Alexander Stadium on day ten of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

Matt Hudson-Smith could see the line, the gold medal he and an expectant Alexander Stadium crowd craved was only a few more strides away.

Then from nowhere Muzala Samukonga, a man he later admitted to never having heard of – and whom he had blasted past some 280 metres previously with ease - appeared on his right shoulder, overtook him and crossed the line first to claim the most extraordinary and unexpected of Commonwealth Games titles.

Samukonga’s winning time of 44.66 was more than two-tenths quicker than his previous best yet the fact the 19-year-old Zambian, who had to be pushed away from the track in a wheelchair, had exerted himself to the point of collapse will be of little consolation to Hudson-Smith.

This was supposed to be a moment of celebration for the Wolverhampton ace, who spent so much of his youth training in this stadium. Instead, there was overpowering sense of anti-climax and second guessing about his race tactics.

“It’s alright,” said Hudson-Smith, yet he was kidding no-one. The 27-year-old had spent a few minutes before speaking to the press sat on the track, no doubt gathering his thoughts and trying to compute what had just happened. He was far from the only one.

There is, of course, a larger story here, far more important than the result of any race.

It is barely two weeks since Hudson-Smith, after claiming a bronze at the world championships, revealed the full extent of his struggles: how close he came to quitting the sport altogether last year, not to mention how close he came to ending his life.

The fact he was even here competing, in excellent form and in a far better place mentally is worthy of a huge celebration.

If anyone can put this disappointment into perspective, it is Hudson-Smith. Later, there was a lovely moment during the medal ceremony, there was a lovely moment when he placed his hand on the shoulder of Samukonga, who was this time overcome by tears, before lifting the victor’s arm into the air.

“If you asked people a year ago if I would do this, I would have said no,” he reflected. “Things are going in the right direction.”

There can be no debate there. Perhaps the gold medal will instead come a couple of weeks from now in Munich at the European Championships.

Still, for a few days at least, this one will sting. Hudson-Smith later insisted he had no regrets over his tactics but it did feel fair to question whether the occasion got the better of him. There was no question that, after a lightning start, he tired over the second half of the race.

Morning finals are unusual in athletics, let alone on a Sunday, yet the atmosphere inside the stadium was nowhere near sleepy when Hudson-Smith and the rest of the field made their way out just after 10.30.

As the competitors tested out their blocks in the minutes before the race, a none-too-subtle pre-race chat took place on the PA between the stadium host and Iwan Thomas, the man whose British record Hudson-Smith claimed earlier this year.

Despite being careful not to mention any athletes by name “out of respect for all those involved” Thomas still managed to do everything but, instructing the crowd to “take the roof off the place” for anyone they might favour.

The message could not have been clearer, though it is doubtful those present needed much prompting.

Hudson-Smith went off like a rocket. At 100 metres, he had gone past Samukonga. By 200 metres, he was clearly leading the pack, Samukonga now some 10 metres or more back.

Hitting the home straight, Hudson-Smith was still in front but things were noticeably tighter, Kenya’s Ontuga Mweresa and Barbados’ Jonathan Jones in close attendance. Even then, with the volume reaching ear-piercing levels, he looked to have their beating until without warning Samukonga with a remarkable burst overtook all three and crossed the line first. Jones took the bronze.

Barely able to raise his arms in celebration, the winner careered to the side of the track before falling in a heap. It was a relief to the whole crowd when he later appeared for the medal ceremony to collect his gold.

Asked whether he had been aware of Samukonga’s presence in the closing metres, Hudson-Smith replied: “No, not really. I made a commitment to go hard over the first 200 metres and tied up around the back. You live and you learn.

“I came into the year to get three medals. I've two already. So I’m riding along to the Europeans. I’ll keep pushing.”

Hudson-Smith's silver was the first claimed for England in quick succession, Victoria Ohuruogu shaving more than a quarter of a second off her personal best to finish second behind Barbados’ Sada Williams in the women’s 400m, the latter breaking the Commonwealth Games record to win in 49.90.

England’s Jodie Williams took the bronze, the home nation’s second of the morning after Cindy Sember’s third place in women’s 100m hurdles final notable for Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan, who last month smashed the world record, adding a Games’ record to her resume, with a time of 12.30.

Better was to come, with the men’s 4x100m relay team winning gold and the women taking silver.

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