WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Having spent three years on the injury sidelines after breaking into international class, hurdler David Hughes is back better than ever before after switching events, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 26-year-old from Trafford AC began life as a mutli-eventer, placing thirteenth on the under20 all-time indoor heptathlon lists in 2003 before finding his athletic niche in sprint hurdling.
Indeed, in his first season tackling the 110m hurdle event, the Sheffield Hallam University graduate captured the European under23 title in Germany in only his
twelfth race over the barriers.
Evidently blessed with raw natural talent, Hughes progressed to make his senior international debut the follow year when, as a 22-year-old, he sped to a scintillating 13.57 clocking to move up to eighth and seventeenth, respectively, on the British all-time under23 and senior rankings.
Major championship selection followed, too, when the Manchester-born athlete earned international call-ups in 2006 for the European championships in Sweden - where he reached the semi-final stage - and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne to finish a promising seventh.
With a very bright-looking future ahead of him, Hughes’ performances appeared to be on a roll.
Yet just as he was leaning towards world-class level, Hughes endured year after year of injury heartbreak – three consecutive years in fact.
“Those seasons were very poor due a list of injuries,” Hughes explained.
“I ran particularly well in 2005 and 2006 but missed three years of properly competing between 2007 and 2009, as I had two operations and three serious injuries.”
Competing only once in the whole of 2007, a frustrated Hughes managed to win the Loughborough International before missing the entire summer season, which was meant to be his breakthrough year on the global stage.
The following year, he enjoyed a full indoor and outdoor season, placing runner-up in the UK indoor 60m hurdles rankings and championship but missed out on selection for the 2008 Olympics after finishing fourth in the UK outdoor championships and trials for Beijing.
Although disappointed, his health and fitness seemed to be improving but another injury-ravaged winter again put paid to his ambitions, leaving the sprinter’s 2009 campaign a further write-off with only three 400m races over the season.
It seemed as though all hope of returning to his 2006 form was lost after lacking consistency and the winning edge for so long but Hughes was determined to not give up and so he and his brother and coach Steven decided to take a risk which fortunately, paid off with dividends.
Based in Loughborough, the pair made the unusual decision to switch to the 400m hurdles – being four times as long as his normal event, the move was a dangerous choice but Hughes’ improvement in his first season in the discipline has been outstanding and the less-explosive event has kept the problems at bay.
Finally showing glimpses of his potential to reach world-class, Hughes witnessed a staggering improvement of his personal-best time by almost three seconds in the space of ten weeks this summer – catapulting him to third in the UK rankings in his first full season in the event.
Beginning with a first attempt of 52.35 in May, Hughes recorded 51.49 later that very same day to win the British Inter-Counties championships and progressed to a 50.33 clocking a fortnight later in June.
Still learning and with a lot more training required, the refreshed athlete had been given a new lease of life, a second opportunity to reach international representation and every race became an exciting learning curve.
Three weeks down the line came his first sub-50-second mark with 49.87 ahead of claiming the English title. Hughes did however, suffer a minor blip when placing fifth in the UK championships and European trials in July but he subsequently bounced back to register a superb 49.58 new lifetime-best the following month in Switzerland to go to twenty-first on the British all-time list.
While many were surprised at the sudden achievements, Hughes believes more is certain to come and after making his second Commonwealth appearance in his new event in Delhi back in October – where he finished eighth – the future is looking bright once more.
“My season went very well,” Hughes revealed.
“I met all of my targets of sub-50 (which he reached on three occasions), reaching the Commonwealth final and being re-instated on the world-class funding programme with UK Athletics.”
Though he is part of the ‘development’ support list, Hughes still works part-time on his business, body2win in the East Midlands town, where he sells sports performance products and runs a media agency – his most notable client being Commonwealth 200m champion Leon Baptiste.
“I train in the morning then work in the afternoon,” Hughes explains.
“It seems to fit well and I enjoy the business as its shown good growth lately and it keeps me occupied when I’m not training.”
Training at the National Performance Centre, Hughes does speed-work sessions with Baptiste and 2006 World junior 100m champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and next summer, has aspirations of making his World championship debut and of breaking the 49-second barrier.
In an event which boasts a strong calibre of athletes, Hughes is aware that he must stay injury-free in order to capitalise on his current form to further progress:
“My event is one of the best events in the UK,” he revealed.
“Dai Greene is one of the world’s best, and we have Rhys, a European and Commonwealth medallist. I think between those two and I, we had three out of the top-eight ranked in Europe this year.”
Preferring to by-pass the indoor season this winter in order to focus on making another impact going into his second summer over the one-lap barriers, Hughes’ biggest goal is to make the 2012 Olympic squad for the London Games.
And after returning stronger than ever against the odds, this promising athlete may well make up for lost time and in a very big way over the next couple of years, too.