WRITTEN FOR TEAM 2012 VISA (ON FEB 1ST)
Coming off the back of his debut season as a 400m hurdler, David Hughes finds himself in the surprising role of potential 2012 Olympic contender and rather than feeling the pressure, he is taking the excitement all in his stride, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 26-year-old enjoyed a stellar 2010 campaign after switching from his first love, the 110m hurdles and achieved his three targets for the season – a sub-50-second performance, reaching the Commonwealth Games final and being re-instated on the world-class funding programme with UK Athletics.
Indeed, not content enough with reaching these ambitious goals, Hughes surpassed the illusive mark on three occasions and improved his personal-best time by almost three seconds in the space of ten weeks during the summer - catapulting him to third in the UK rankings in his first full season in the event.
Such a staggering improvement and promising debut season were all the more impressive considering he had spent the past three years on the injury sidelines before switching events, but Hughes was always confident he would make an impact once his health was intact:
“Fortunately, my body’s in one piece, which is the main goal in order to run quick,” he explained.
“Training’s going very well. I’ve spent the winter trying to hurdle with my left leg as using only my right was causing some trouble last year and we had no time to work on it. I lost races because of it but it’s now going well now and will make a big difference this summer.”
If his predictions for a big improvement prove correct then Hughes’ rivals will certainly have to start watching their backs this summer, especially considering the impact he made last year off only six months training.
The risky choice to move to the longer barriers fortunately paid off for Hughes, as the less-explosive event has kept his injury woes at bay and in only his second race, he took the British Inter-Counties title in Bedford last May.
Refreshed for a new challenge and in good health, the former European under23 110m hurdles champion progressed to take the English title the following month before placing fifth in the UK championships and registered a swift 49.58 life-time best in Switzerland in July to place twenty-first on the British all-time list.
“Last year was a blur, as I didn’t really know the event so I now want to really stamp my authority on it and be right on the heels of the two Welsh boys,” Hughes revealed.
The Welsh duo in question are Dai Greene and Rhys Williams – the top two from July’s European championships and gold and bronze-medallists from the Commonwealth event in Delhi last October – the same race where Hughes finished eighth.
“I have my wedding (in Florence in September) to pay for so I jokingly asked Rhys if he could let me win a couple of big races to help me pay for it,” Hughes explained.
“I’ve actually done most of the organising myself.”
Most elite athletes would not have the time to arrange such an important occasion, let alone a celebration abroad but Hughes is happy to combine training with part-time work and such distractions in order to maintain a balanced lifestyle.
Running his sports performance store, body2win in the East Midlands town of Loughborough, Hughes works three days per week, despite being funded by UK Sport in addition to training at the National Performance Centre nearby.
Coached by his brother Steve, Hughes revealed:
“I’m under pressure to become a full-time athlete but I enjoy having off-track interests.
The business did exceptionally well last year in our first year and we hope to maintain this with the same level of effort this year, before pushing on again after 2012. I’d never want to be a full-time athlete.”
Whist the majority of Team GB are training in sunnier climes, Hughes continued:
“I’ve never been one for going warm-weather training. I don’t travel well or deal with the heat and Loughborough’s got the best sports science support and facilities in the world so why would I leave?
I like to say a big thanks to UK Sport for the funding – we have the best support system in the world. I did really well without any support last year so I’m just accepting it rather than letting it dictate my performances.”
After finishing his season in October in India, Hughes has decided to bypass the current indoor season and expects to begin his outdoor campaign in early May, with high expectations from the outset:
“I can’t wait to get out and race,” he explained.
“My aims are to get under 49-seconds as soon as possible and to make the World championships (in Daegu, South Korea in August). I want to cause some damage and push for the semi’s and the final.
As I’ve come from a sprint background with no 400m training, I surprised a lot of my rivals last year and I hope to really worry them again this summer.”
With his event having great strength in depth, Hughes will find himself among a large crop of talented British athletes vying for national vests and no more so than in London 2012 – the biggest goal of his athletic career.
“I would be proud to make 2012 and I would be working full-time unless I thought I couldn’t make a living as a professional athlete and make the Olympic final,” Hughes revealed.
“I enjoy the excitement and tension surrounding it – there’s no pressure on me as I have my own goals and I’m quite a confident person despite being modest. I just like to keep my head down and keep myself to myself – I learnt that lesson when I was in the 110m hurdles, thinking I was a big shot.
The main thing is to remain level-headed and not get overwhelmed. It helps being surrounded by a strong support network and having a stable home-life – we’ve just bought a house to get away from the pressure near the track. Being in comfortable surroundings is key for me.”
Although it is still early days, judging by his potential, more fireworks should be expected from Hughes this summer now that his apprenticeship has been served en route to a timely Olympic debut over the event which it has taken him eight long years to find.