Legendary one-lapper Derek Redmond believes that in the sizeable shape of Matthew Hudson-Smith, British athletics may have found itself an athlete to rekindle the halcyon days of 400-metre running.
World, Commonwealth and European relay medallist Redmond was a huge part of two generations of outstanding British quarter-milers, including household names Phil Brown, Todd Bennett, Jon Regis and Roger Black.
Britain had one of the strongest relay squads in the world in the early 1990s and, even after Redmond’s retirement, carried on punching above its weight with stars like Iwan Thomas, Mark Richardson and Jamie Baulch. But since then the global medals have dried up.
However, Redmond recognises similarities between Hudson-Smith’s career path and his own, and hopes the 19-year-old, who has made a major breakthrough in the last few days and been selected for next month’s European Championships, can be the catalyst that livens up this country’s 400m scene.
Both shared the same coach, one-lap guru Tony Hadley, both come from the same club, Birchfield Harriers – and Redmond thinks the youngster could follow in his own exalted footsteps.
Like Hudson-Smith, Redmond was still a teenager when he broke the 45-second barrier, in Oslo in 1985, before he went on to twice set a new British record.
His outstanding career also took him to two Olympic Games and brought 4x400m golds at virtually every level. But perhaps the abiding image of his time in the sport came at Barcelona 92 when his father helped him cross the finish line after he’d torn his hamstring.
Redmond possessed an excellent work ethic but also outstanding talent and the 48-year-old detects that in his old coach’s latest protégé after Hudson-Smith joined him as only the second British teenager to break 45 seconds.
The youngster from Wolverhampton did that at the Diamond League meeting in Glasgow last Saturday when he shocked himself and his rivals by finishing third in a scintillating 44.97 seconds.
It was a performance that confirmed his undoubted potential. “He’s knocking on the door of being a world-class athlete,” Redmond said.
“He needs to just keep doing what he’s been doing with Tony, continue training, continue racing, continue listening to Tony and not change anything because it’s worked so far. It’s about just sticking to his game-plan.
“There will be pressures. His and Tony’s phones have been ringing off the hook. Agents are going to be buzzing around with talk of sponsorship and the whole money thing and that could be a distraction.
“The one good thing for Matt, is his relationship with Tony who’s had him for several years now. Tony is a master at keeping athletes grounded and down to earth.
“I’ve met Matt a few times and he seems very cool and calm. He just needs to be sensible, not get excited about it all and keep doing what he’s doing and leave all that other stuff to other people, keep anything else down to a minimum.”
He will get the chance to show that potential in Zurich next month, where he will wear a senior GB vest for the first time. Incredibly for a converted 200m sprinter, who has run less than a dozen 400m races in his senior career, he goes to Switzerland with only the Czech Republic’s Pavel Maslák having gone faster this year.
“It’s brilliant he’s got that opportunity,” Redmond said. “Running three rounds will be a different experience but Tony will tell him how to run it.
“It’s a nice position to be in, I’m almost envious, because five days ago no-one expected him to be in with a shout and now he’s going to a major championships and going without major pressure on him.
“I am sure the press will be thinking ‘He’s No.2 in Europe so he should win a silver medal’ but athletes and coaches know it doesn’t work that way.
“He’ll go with a game-plan, he just needs to stick to it and if he follows a couple of simple rules there is no reason why he can’t go there and do himself justice.
“The first golden rule is win your qualifying rounds. I have seen really experienced athletes go to major championships, finish third in their heat and end up with a bad lane draw for the semi-final. That creates a pressure that doesn’t need to be there.
“The other golden rule is run the first 200m like it’s a final – in every race. If you do exactly the same thing in every race you can make a judgment then what you need to do for the rest of the race.
“He could be the man to spark everyone else off and start other British athletes thinking ‘If he can run sub-45 so can I’, like me and Roger did with each other.”
* Derek Redmond is a motivational speaker, for more information go to www.officialderekredmond.com