European 100 metre Gold Medallist Zharnel Hughes Talks About Life in the Fast Lane
British sprinting is going through a renaissance period like never before. The recent European Championships in Berlin saw Great Britain’s athletes shine the brightest with wins in both the 4 x 100m relays along with individual star-making turns from golden girl Dina Asher-Smith and the man of the moment Zharnel Hughes.
Born in the British Overseas Territory of Anguilla, Zharnel has competed for Britain since 2015, where he impressed from the get-go clocking a national record in the 200 metres in his first season, before more recently transferring his focus to the 100m. In June this year, he became the second fastest British 100 metre sprinter ever after Linford Christie when he ran 9.91 in Kingston, Jamaica. And with his dominant performance at the Europeans, it’s no wonder why many are looking at Zharnel Hughes in the post Bolt landscape of world athletics as the next big thing in sprinting. We spoke to him recently about his plans to take that long-held British record, what inspires him and his cravings for off-season fast food and home cooking.
The MALESTROM: Massive congratulations on your win at the European Championships. What did it feel like to take the gold, especially after the disappointment of losing out on the 200m gold at the Commonwealth Games?
Zharnel Hughes: Yeah, it was definitely one of those feelings I want to feel again. Obviously, it’s been something we’ve been working towards all season, the goal at the end of the year was to win at the European Championships, and to see that actually come to pass was one of those surreal moments.
TM: You must be proud of all the Brits, you’ve all been so dominant, especially the sprinters, Dina Asher-Smith has been incredible hasn’t she?
ZH: She has, she’s doing her thing in her races, it’s good to see that British sprinters are now being able to take on the world so to speak.
TM: You were back racing in Birmingham on Sunday. How hard is it to race after that big moment of winning a medal?
ZH: (Laughs) It was tough to be honest, my body wasn’t having it at all, whatsoever. You put your body through so much stress a week after your body is like “no what are you doing”? So that day my body wasn’t having it at all. So I warmed up properly, stayed hydrated, but it just wasn’t my day.
TM: With the other British boys like Reece Prescod running so quick, is there a lot of genuine competition between you guys? C.J. Ujah also ran quickly this year and won a Diamond League…
ZH: Definitely, each of us keeps each other on our toes, you can’t lay back for not even a second, we’re now starting to perform to the best of our abilities and now we have to take on the world, but there’s great competition here in the UK as well.
TM: You’ve trained with Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, was that a turning point in your career in terms of motivation?
ZH: It was, because I trained around the guys for so long and they’ve always been guys I’ve looked up to and tried to be as good as you know. It’s a tremendous feeling to be around those fellas, see the way they train, the work ethic and the attitude they have towards training. I’ve learned from them and I’m still learning and I definitely think in years to come I can be one of those great athletes as well.
TM: Definitely. Who do you see as your big rival, whether internationally or domestically? Is there someone you have in your sights to stay with?
ZH: I’m not really looking at anyone to say “I need to keep my eye on this one or that one”. For me with my competitors, every year someone new comes along on the circuit so I prepare myself for whatever comes in the season.
TM: How do you get motivated? Is it Music? Is there a track you always stick on pre-race?
ZH: I listen to a bit of Jamaican music, reggae, dancehall, that gets me in the vibe. I also listen to rap music, rap music gets you hyped.
TM: What are your go-to artists?
ZH: I probably listen to some Big Phil, some Drake maybe some Tory Lanez, Stormzy as well.
TM: What about inspiration in your life, who’ve been the main figures you’ve looked up to?
ZH: For me, I just want to better myself and see how much better I can become. I’ve always wanted to achieve goals and set goals out for myself. So I wanted to run sub ten this year, be European Champion. Obviously, my Mum and the rest of my family help motivate me to be the best athlete possible. I’m also into my flying, so flying is a lot of inspiration for me. Anytime I get the chance to fly with other pilots I take the opportunity, I like to sit inside the cockpit with them and ask them questions. I’m also into fast cars, so riding around in BMWs and stuff like that, that’s another thrill for me.
TM: So if you hadn’t been a sprinter would you have been a racing driver or a pilot?
ZH: Definitely I’d have been a pilot right now.
TM: Are you still training, obviously there’s a couple of Diamond Leagues left in the season, or are you done for now?
ZH: That’s it for me to be honest, I’ve pulled the plug so to speak. It’s the end of the season for me, it’s time to relax and enjoy some off-season time.
TM: So is your diet going to be changing a bit?
ZH: It’s just that I’m going to be having some fast food now, my body’s been craving it the whole season, I’ve been resisting, resisting, resisting, so now is the time to eat some cake, drink some sodas, eat some burgers, and some pizzas.
TM: What about home cooking?
ZH: Definitely, well I like my Mom’s cooking. So I’m going back to Anguilla shortly and hoping to have some nice rice and peas, some curried goat, jerk chicken and fried plantain.
TM: Sounds good. We’ve got to talk about Linford’s (Christie) British record (9.87). It’s 25 years old, you’ve run 9.91 which is pretty damn close, you’re looking to break that right?
ZH: Of course yes. But it’s not something I’m thinking about each time I go down to the track though. I’d definitely like to get it.
TM: How do you think you can shave that time off? Is it getting out of the blocks better?
ZH: I think I need to be much stronger. This year for me is just a learning season to go out and see what I can do in the 100 metres and my coach is quite happy with the progress I’ve made, to run 9.91 already in what’s just a learning season for me. I definitely think in the next two years I can lower my personal best. So with strength, proper execution, learning the event as I go and understanding the science behind it as well.
TM: How do you cope with the pressure when people call you the next big thing in sprinting?
ZH: To be honest I’m quite cool with it, it don’t really get on my shoulders. I try not to let the pressure get to me because once it gets to you that’s it, you can fumble, and for me, it’s all about a steady head and thinking about what I need to do with regards to my execution to make things happen the way they should happen. I try not to carry any excessive weight on my shoulders when they say “he’s the next Usain Bolt”, for me it’s just about focusing on Zharnel Hughes and building my own brand.
TM: It doesn’t worry you too much when you see your fellow Brit athletes go fast like Reece Prescod in Birmingham last Sunday? Is that a rivalry or friendly competition?
ZH: It’s friendly competition, Reece and I are pretty cool to be honest, on and off the track. It’s good to see that he’s stepped up his game as well, it helps all the British sprinters, not just the rivalry between him and I, it keeps all of us athletes on our toes you know.
TM: Is the focus now going to be taking on the best at the World’s in Doha next year or are you looking further down the line to the Olympics?
ZH: For me, it’s the World Championships next year in Doha, that’s where my eyes are going to be set for next season. I’ll take it in stages, that’s how I think. I try not to rush and think about Doha and the Olympics right away. It’s in my thoughts, but it’s not the main focus right now.
TM: We always like to ask for a piece of wisdom or a mantra you live your life by, does anything come to mind?
ZH: For me, it’s inspire before I expire. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do, putting out positive content always.