Matt Hudson-Smith revealed he almost quit athletics to join the army.
The European 400m champion is back in Eugene for the World Athletics Championships almost two months after breaking the British record.
He broke Iwan Thomas’ 25-year 400m record when he ran 44.35 seconds at the Diamond League meet at Hayward Field in May.
Much was expected when an 18-year-old Hudson-Smith ran 44.97secs in 2014 but, ahead of his opener on Sunday, he admitted to almost walking away.
He said: “It was just a bit of fun and games that I was good at. In 2014, two weeks before I did the 44 I was working in Glasgow in Asda and I signed up for the army.
“I didn’t want to go to university. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I was just going through life. I didn’t really have much in my bank account.
“From one race my whole life changed. I had an agent, I had sponsors coming at me left, right and centre, I learnt about taxes, I learned about so much.
Hudson-Smith thought about quitting athletics before his breakthrough. (Martin Rickett/PA)
“It went from going out with my mates and enjoying myself to being thrown in the spotlight, panicking about tea bags because you hear about people failing tests because of contaminated meats and stuff like that.
“It was just growing pains. I was panicking left, right and centre. You want to go out with your mates but you can’t because you’re racing against Wayde van Niekerk one week.
“You go from catching a bus to UKA leagues to catching a flight every single week, racing the best of the best who you watch on TV. It was manic.”
It has been a long road for the Wolverhampton-born runner, who won the European title in 2018, having battled three stress fractures in his back and almost lost his left leg to a gangrenous ulcer in 2012.
Injury also forced him to miss last year’s Olympics but the 27-year-old feels at peace with his journey.
“Most definitely. When I first jumped onto the scene people like Adam (Gemili) and Dina (Asher-Smith) have always been in the track spotlight,” he said.
“I was always in the background. I never did the 400m until the year I popped up running a 44. It’s funny looking back on my time now because I never really took track seriously.
“Anyone who says they have prepared for this all their life is lying to you because it’s different when you’re actually in it. And the fact is that I never prepared for it, I never expected it.
“In 2013 I took a year out and thought: ‘If it happens, it happens,’ but really it was a delaying tactic because I didn’t want to go to uni. Everything just went fast-paced and I just had to learn in front of everybody.
Hudson-Smith won 400m gold at the European Championships in 2018. (Martin Rickett/PA)
“It was my first year of 400m. I didn’t do rounds, juniors or anything. I just learned on the job. You saw the triumphs, the failures, everything. Now I understand the sport and everything that’s happened.
“There’s nothing really that can faze me anymore because I’ve been there and done that, been in a world-record race, been in an Olympic final, won medals.
“It is draining. I never really experienced injuries until I went professional and you’re on the edge every single day because you’re racing a guy who is going to go 43.
“You’re pushing your body to the edge in training because if you’re not on your game you’re going to look stupid.”