Sprinter with ambitions of becoming a pilot puts his focus on the track as mouthwatering 100m battle with Reece Prescod and resurgent Brits looms in Birmingham
Zharnel Hughes would love to live the jetset lifestyle one day, but perhaps not in the usual way you might associate with a world-class sprinter.
The 22-year-old says he is “setting myself up for my future” by working towards a commercial pilot’s licence alongside his athletics career. The ultimate aim is to become a corporate pilot and he is certainly making good progress.
As you might expect of someone who spends much of their time in highly competitive environments, there was great delight and satisfaction for the man from Anguilla but who has raced for Great Britain since 2015 when he broke a two-year-old solo flying record earlier this month.
Logging his air miles in the cockpit may well have to be placed a little further on to the backburner, however, if his on-track improvements continue at their current rate.
For someone who claims he is “learning the 100m as I go along” and who usually specialises in sprinting double that distance, he is proving to be rather good at it.
So good, in fact, that he clocked 9.91 at the recent Racers Grand Prix in Jamaica, where he lives and trains. It was a world lead at the time and is still the fifth-fastest on the planet in 2018.
Whether he will get close to that mark in his next race – this weekend’s Müller British Athletics Championships in Birmingham – remains to be seen but the level of competition will certainly drive standards up and put on a fine sprinting show in the midlands.
“I’m not putting any expectations on myself but records are meant to be broken” – Zharnel Hughes
Linford Christie’s 25-year-old British record of 9.87 is beginning to look increasingly under threat. Reece Prescod got incredibly close to it, running a wind-assisted 9.88 in Eugene, and is now beginning to show his true potential after years of injury struggles.
He will line up against Hughes and is joined in the 100m contest by the likes of the in-form Ojie Edoburun, who has clocked 10.04 this year, last year’s Diamond League winner CJ Ujah and world 100m relay gold medallist Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake.
So could Christie’s mark vanish at the Alexander Stadium this weekend?
“I’m not putting any expectations on myself but records are meant to be broken,” says Hughes. “Running 9.91 shows I’m in good shape but that time is in the past now, I’m just focusing on this weekend. It’s about going out there, enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying the crowd and embracing my competition to the full if I’m going to fulfil my potential.”
Hughes has had an eventful 2018 so far. It is a year which began with him having to flee from an armed robber outside the track where he trains in Kingston, Jamaica (he went back and completed his session after the incident) and continued with the “heartbreak” of thinking he had won the 200m Commonwealth title in Australia, only to be told during his lap of honour that he had been disqualified for obstructing Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards in the closing stages of the race.
“Since I left the Gold Coast I’ve left that heartbreak and pain behind,” says Hughes, who is coached by Usain Bolt’s mentor Glen Mills and was part of the England 4x100m relay team which struck Commonwealth Gold in April. “When I got back to Jamaica it was all about refocusing and regaining myself.
“It’s made me a bit stronger, a bit hungrier and as you can see it’s definitely showing on the track.”
Prescod’s improvement is clear for all to see, too, following his breakthrough last year when he became British champion and followed that up by being the only home male athlete to reach the 100m final at the IAAF World Championships in London.
“You have to push your body to the edge but not break it” – Reece Prescod
This is an athlete thrilled to be competing consistently after injury problems which blighted his junior career and forced him to think twice about continuing in the sport.
Thankfully, Prescod opted not to become an estate agent and he says: “For me, being injured for so many seasons, I learned how to get stronger.
“To this day I still get niggles and stuff but I’ve just managed it better.
“I don’t think any top-class sprinter hasn’t had an injury at some point – Bolt was riddled with it, (Justin) Gatlin had a few, Christian Coleman had an amazing season last year but he’s had a tougher time this season,” adds the Shanghai Diamond League 100m winner, who clocked 10.04 to claim victory in China ahead of Su Bingtian.
“But it happens when you are pushing your body to the limit. You’ve just got to learn to live with it and come back stronger.
“You have to push your body to the edge but not break it – it sounds quite challenging!”
He, the high-flying Hughes and the current crop of hungry athletes currently sparking something of a resurgence in British sprinting are certainly pushing their personal boundaries. This weekend in Birmingham might yet show that, in fact, the sky’s the limit.
» Find an online preview to the Müller British Athletics Championships here, while an in-depth six-page look ahead to the action can be found in the latest AW magazine