Road To The Olympic Games

Track and Field

Rejuvenated runner Matt Hughes ponders doubling up at Tokyo Olympics

Canadian steeplechase runner Matt Hughes thought his career would end at an Olympics this summer. But qualifying recently in a second event has the 30-year-old eyeing the 2022 world championships and possibly 2024 Paris Olympics after next year's Tokyo Games.

Canadian Olympian believes best days in steeplechase, 5,000m may be in front of him

Canada's Matt Hughes says it's possible he will race the 5,000 metres and 3,000 steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympics in July 2022. A few months ago, the 30-year-old thought his best running days were behind him. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images/File)

Matt Hughes wondered if the days of reaching his highest level on the track were over.

Early last summer, the Canadian steeplechase and distance runner left Jerry Schumacher and the Bowerman Track Club in Portland, Ore., returning to train full-time in Toronto after two years of struggling with injuries and underwhelming race results.

A six-time Canadian champion, Hughes had lost the fire to compete, saying the sport and job he loved had become a chore.

"I've realized after a lot of reflection, I fell out of love with running," he wrote in an Instagram post. "I found myself seeking happiness through performances, thinking that running fast or winning a certain race would ultimately make me happy, but I've learned that's not the way it works."

Before the Tokyo Olympics were postponed last month until July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hughes thought this summer's Games – his second and likely last – would be the beginning to "exploring the next chapter in my life."

But in late February, the 30-year-old native of Oshawa, Ont., met the Tokyo qualifying standard of 13 minutes 13.50 seconds in the men's 5,000 metres after a few strong weeks of altitude running in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Indoor PB in 5,000 metres

"It was kind of in the back of my mind that I could hit it. I've been a little skittish to think that the last couple of years," said Hughes, whose time of 13:13.38 at the Boston Last Chance meet is a personal-best indoors. His 13:19.56 outdoor PB was set May 2, 2015 at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. "I stayed with the lead guys and it ended up being a really good race.

"It showed me and showed my [new] coach [Dave Reid] that maybe the best days aren't behind me but right in front of me. It gave me the confidence and, more importantly, the belief that I think I can still compete with the best guys in the world on my best day."

In Tokyo, he might have the opportunity to double up and earn the third and final spot on Team Canada in the 5,000 on the men's side – Moh Ahmed and Justyn Knight have qualified - should no one else run the standard and meet the qualifying criteria before June 30, 2021.

"I wouldn't want to steal a spot in the 5K from an up-and-coming guy who rightfully earned it and it was his first Olympics," said Hughes, the Canadian-record holder in the 3,000-metre steeplechase who finished 10th at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. "If it works out next year that there is an open spot and Athletics Canada awards me the spot, I would think about it.

"Training wouldn't change much as I do a lot of 5K training with my preparation for the steeple as the events have a similar pace structure. But my focus will always be the steeple."

Hughes met the 8:22.00 standard in the steeplechase with an 8:17.26 effort last July and went 8:13.12 in the heats at worlds. He would also gain entry based on his current 17th-place standing in the world rankings.

It would be fun to run a world champs (in North America) where friends and family could ... see me race on the world stage.— Canadian runner Matt Hughes on competing at the 2022 world championships in Eugene, Ore.

On Tuesday, World Athletics suspended Olympic qualification until Dec. 1, with the new period extended through June 29 next year.

Hughes plans to get better, stronger and faster in the coming months and strengthen every aspect of his training.

Wednesday's rescheduling of next year's track and field world championships to July 2022 in Eugene, Ore., has Hughes wondering if his career could extend further as the Paris Olympics would only be two years later.

"It would be fun to run a world champs [in North America] where friends and family could travel and see me race on the world stage," said Hughes, whose contract with Nike expires at the end of this year.

"If the Olympics went well and I felt I could be competitive a year later, I would think of doing it. I'll judge where I'm at physically and mentally after that to see if I could withstand another [major championship] build."

About the Author

Doug Harrison has covered the professional and amateur scene as a senior writer for CBC Sports since 2003. Previously, the Burlington, Ont., native covered the NHL and other leagues for Faceoff.com. Follow the award-winning journalist @harrisoncbc

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