Wolves rejection put Matthew Hudson-Smith on Olympic road to Rio
In a parallel universe, Matthew Hudson-Smith could well have solved Kenny Jackett's search for a striker at Wolves this summer.
Good on his feet, exceptionally fit and, yes, pretty quick – 400-metre runner Hudson-Smith fits the bill, writes Tim Spiers.
And had the athlete made a difference choice as a teenager, the now-21-year-old might have been wearing a gold and black football kit instead of the blue, white and red of Team GB.
However such as his been rise to prominence in athletics – and with the Rio Olympics now in his sights – there are no doubts in Hudson–Smith's mind that he made the correct decision to swap studs for spikes.
"I was versatile, they put me everywhere – a utility man," Hudson said of his fledgling football career.
"Wolves played me at right back at first, then as a striker because I was quite quick.
"In fact if they do need a striker, let me know!
"Speed was my obvious strength. At right back I could just run up and down the wing.
"And then as striker, when they did the long ball I could sprint onto it.
"I didn't have the best of touches but my speed made up for it. The ball would bounce off my foot but I could catch it!
"I had quite a mean shot on me though."
Wolves let him go as a young teen and then Hudson-Smith made his definitive career choice – and hasn't looked back since.
What was the deciding factor?
"I kept getting taken out all the time!
"I had a few trials, my brother always said I could have done football if I'd have wanted to.
"But I like athletics more. Football's a bit...I think the reason Wolves let me go was I was a bit too relaxed.
"Because if you're in a team you don't get to express yourself as much, unless you're the main guy.
"I was too relaxed to try and push myself as the main guy.
"But with athletics I can relax and do my own thing, and be the person who I want to be rather than the person the manager wants me to be."
Relaxed is a word that comes up a lot when people are talking about Hudson-Smith.
And, as with most athletes, he's not short of self-confidence either.
Thankfully, this doesn't cross the line into arrogance.
In fact, quite the opposite. The humble, determined athlete from Lanesfield, Wolverhampton is excellent, engaging company and has clearly got his head screwed on.
Witness his second life, as a student.
Hudson-Smith is about to complete his second year of a PE and Sports Coaching Science degree at the University Worcester.
When asked what he does in his spare time, he replies: "Studying.
"Everyone needs a back-up plan just in case.
"Athletics is obviously the priority, but last year (when Hudson-Smith missed half the season through injury) showed you're going to need a back-up plan because you never know what's around the corner.
"A degree, although I don't plan to use it because I'm an athlete, is a stepping stone to other things in life."
He will next year undertake a dissertation, likely to focus on sport participation levels in a country which has just hosted an Olympics, examining the impact that the world's greatest sport event – and seeing home athletes triumph to win gold – has on youngsters.
And you never know, the part-student part-athlete could be writing it while in the aftermath of becoming an Olympic gold medallist himself, inspiring the next generation.
It will certainly be fascinating to see just how Hudson-Smith fares against the world's best.
It's been s sharp rise for the Birchfield Harrier, who only began competing in the 400m in 2014.
That was a breakthrough year rivalled by few others in recent British athletics history – he anchored the relay team to win gold for England in the Commonwealth Games, and then took silver in the European Championships.
He also didn't look out of place in the prestigious Diamond League.
In fact so high was his confidence at the time that he was eyeing up World Championship gold in Beijing last year.
The year also had Olympic champion, Kirani James predicting that Hudson-Smith was capable of "great things".
The reason he's not being touted as James' successor just yet is that 2015 ended up being a bit of a disaster, in that injury robbed him of a place at the World Championships.
Still, the upbeat Hudson-Smith points out: "It's better to happen in 2015 rather than 2016.
"If I wanted a year of injuries it'd definitely be last year rather than Rio."
How did he cope with being on the sidelines?
"Not very well! It's part of the sport, you just get on with it. Every top athlete has gone through some sort of challenge and that was my challenge.
"I had university (to fill my time)
"I watched the World Championships. Even though I'd have liked to have been there, I watched and studied the races and just moped around because there's nothing else you can do in that situation."
Now fully fit, Hudson-Smith will tomorrow try and put down a marker when he competes in a world class field (which includes James) in a Diamond League event at Birmingham's Alexander Stadium.
Whatever the result, he's got Rio in his sights.
"I've been training for this moment for about eight years now," he said.
"Now that it's here, it's quite surreal.
"It's my time now, to put into practice what I've been putting into training.
"I'm not nervous. If anything I was more nervous for my first race (after injury) than I would be for the Diamond League or for the bigger competitions.
"With not racing for so long I was just nervous, what do I do, have I still got it?
"The time wasn't amazing but I did something I never did before which was actually take out a 400 metres – and die! In athletics terms, just die.
"I think I've learned a lot more from the injury and that race than I have from the ones I've won and done well.
"I'm not really nervous, I'm more excited in the fact that I've developed as an athlete and I'm getting to where I want to be.
"Progression-wise there are a lot of training aspects that need to be done to get me to the level where I can compete with the world's best.
"But I'll be ready when the time comes."
If that Olympic gold comes, the Lanesfield lad will instantly become a national star.
Is he ready for the fame and possibly fortune that will follow?
"I'm prepared...but being prepared and then being in the moment of it are two completely different things.
"I didn't get into athletics for fame. It's a sport where you do it for yourself rather than other factors, more than any other sport.
"You don't do it for other people, or for the money, it's for the enjoyment.
"The other external factors are what they are.
"It's just something you've got to deal with. The most important thing for me is what happens on the track.
"It's not like football where you're guaranteed millions. You have to be the best."
Hudson-Smith seems well on his way to being just that.
* Hudson-Smith joins the likes of Mo Farah, Dina Asher-Smith, Robbie Grabarz, Dafne Schippers, Greg Rutherford and Adam Gemili in a star-studded field at the Birmingham Diamond League on Sunday, June 5. For tickets visit britishathletics.org.uk
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