Zharnel Hughes will thrive under the pressure of being a British record holder and serious medal contender at the Paris 2024 Games: that’s according to former Olympian Iwan Thomas.
Hughes, 27, shattered Linford Christie’s 30-year British 100m record when he stopped the clock in 9.83 seconds at last month’s New York City Grand Prix, before claiming the sprint double at the British Athletics Championships over the weekend.
Hughes will be tasked with replicating his phenomenal performance on the biggest stage of all in 12 months’ time and Thomas is backing him to rise to the challenge.
“Zharnel is a world class athlete,” said Thomas, speaking at the University of Loughborough, where he was joined by former Head of Para Athletics Paula Dunn, and Head of Parasport at Loughborough University, Alasdair Donaldson, to celebrate the work of The National Lottery in supporting and inspiring the next generation of para-athletics.
“You don’t train and compete as well as that unless you’re able to deal with the pressure and I know for certain he’d rather be in that position where the world is talking about him, rather than an athlete who’s half a second off the pace.
“He can handle the pressure. He’s going to relish the opportunity and I really hope he shows the world what he can do.
“To run the 100m as he did in those conditions in Manchester was staggering.
“We’ve got the Diamond League in two weeks’ time in London. I think he’s going to run very fast there in the 200m and let’s hope he can keep it going come the World Championships and then Paris next year.”
National Lottery players have transformed athletics in the UK, with more than £214 million invested since National Lottery funding began to help stars such as Hughes realise their Olympic dreams.
The National Lottery funds over 1,000 elite athletes on the World Class Programme. This vital funding allows them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science, and medical support.
After losing his UK 100m crown to close rival Hughes, Jeremiah Azu will be determined to prove himself as Great Britain’s No.1 sprint star.
The pair enjoyed a fierce face-off in the latter stages of their 100m semi-final last week, but Thomas reckons healthy competition is necessary in the pursuit of gold-medal winning performances.
“I love it,” said Thomas, who was track side in Manchester. “They get on well, I don’t think there was any malice in that, but it’s just thrilling to see because it gets people talking about track and field and that’s exactly what we need.
“We need those rivalries. We need those characters in the sport so people at home take an interest.
“I love the stare off, it’s what I want to see in sport, especially with 100m runners – it’s all about bravado, attitude and arrogance and trying to get one up on your opponents.”
Hughes has extra motivation heading into next summer’s Olympics, having been part of the Team GB relay team disqualified from the 100m finals in Tokyo.
Thomas, a silver medallist at Atlanta 1996, believes Hughes could not have done any more ahead of his return to the Olympic stage.
“We’ve seen it before, especially with 100 metres, where people have run really quick in the semi-finals and then in the final, they don’t hold their nerve, and they don’t perform as well,” he added.
“For someone like Zharnel, it’s all about leaving the hard work he’s done through the winter months on the track.
“He really has put himself on the stage now as a contender, and I really hope the world is watching because it’s brilliant to see.”
National Lottery players raise more than £30million a week for good causes including vital funding into sport – from grassroots to elite. Find out how your numbers make amazing happen at: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk #TNLAthletes #MakeAmazingHappen