Zharnel Hughes hopes Paris 2024 Olympics will be ‘third time lucky’

Zharnel Hughes celebrates as he crosses the line at the World Athletics Championships
Image caption,Zharnel Hughes won his first global individual medal at the World Athletics Championships in 2023

Third time’s the charm, so the saying goes.

Zharnel Hughes will certainly hope that proves to be the case in 2024.

This summer, in Paris, the 28-year-old will chase his first Olympic medal after injury and error ruined his previous two attempts.

A knee ligament problem denied him the chance to compete in 2016 before the heartbreak of Tokyo 2020, when he had a false start in a 100m final that saw Italy’s Marcell Jacobs crowned a shock champion.

It is the experience of three years ago in particular that made his World Championship success all the more significant.

Having broken two long-standing British sprint records in an outstanding 2023 season, Hughes became the first British man to make the world 100m podium for 20 years as he claimed his first individual global medal in Budapest last summer.

“Over the years, the issue has been the injuries I had and a lot to do with my mental space,” Hughes tells BBC Sport.

“Sometimes I felt as if I was putting a little bit too much pressure on myself and I wasn’t really enjoying the moments. I have definitely changed that narrative going into this season,” he adds.

“This year I’m relaxed. I’m not really thinking about what I have done last season. It’s a whole new year, Paris 2024 is what we’re looking forward to and I’m just looking forward to going out there and giving my best again.

“They say third time is always lucky, so I’m hoping to make this one count.”

The world 100m final proved so tight that Hughes momentarily believed he had beaten American champion Noah Lyles to gold, bursting into celebration as he crossed the finish line.

That was an indication of the confidence with which he had arrived at the championships, reinforced by running 9.83 seconds to break Linford Christie’s 30-year British 100m mark and 19.73 to beat John Regis’ 200m record.

The bronze confirmed on the big screen moments later would not detract from Hughes’ ecstasy over at last seizing his opportunity and delivering in a major final.

“Confidence has always been there. Belief was where the issue was,” says Hughes, who failed to qualify from his semi-final at the previous Worlds in 2022.

“Now I have tapped into that rhythm where my belief has been aligned with my confidence and, along with my speed, we’re seeing the performances.

“I’m just happy for the people I have in my corner. My support system has helped tremendously to get me to the point I’m at now. Sometimes you just see the great performances of the athlete but there’s a lot behind the scenes. I’m looking forward to making them even more proud this season.”

Zharnel Hughes' false start at Tokyo 2020
Image caption,Hughes was left to wonder what might have been after his false start in Tokyo

Hughes also made headlines last season by claiming to have accurately predicted the time of both his British record runs, to the hundredth detail, writing them down in his notebook on the morning of the races.

A firm believer in manifesting his dreams into reality, the Anguilla-born Hughes, who is also a qualified pilot, has a vision board on the wall of his living room at his home in Jamaica which lays out his sporting and personal goals.

But when it comes to Paris, times will be of secondary importance.

“I wrote my targets down for this season a long time ago but I haven’t written a time for Paris,” says Hughes.

“The time doesn’t matter there as long as I get a medal. The Olympics could be won in 10 seconds flat.”

While yet to decide his race plan with coach Glen Mills – the man who oversaw Usain Bolt’s illustrious athletics career – Hughes hopes to improve his British records and achieve success at the European Championships in Rome in June before aiming for the Olympic podium.

Qualification for the Diamond League Final is also on his radar, with athletics’ 15-meet series starting in Xiamen in April and culminating in the two-day title decider in Brussels in September.

“I know people will be expecting a lot of big things from me now but I won’t allow it to go to my head,” says Hughes, set to feature in a Netflix documentary following the world’s top sprinters later this year.

“I am just taking it day by day, step by step, getting the progress done according to what my coach and I are working on. https://brewokkiri.com/

“In the past I have allowed myself to think too far ahead. I’m living in the present. I try not to focus too much on the expectations because that will lead to extra pressure on myself.”

With redemption achieved on the global stage – and the belief that has instilled in him as Paris approaches – Hughes is rightfully optimistic at the start of a year which could go a long way to helping him achieve the “legacy” he says he wants to create for himself.

Now better equipped to face the big moments in his career, and meet them with a smile on his face, his painful ill-fated challenge in Tokyo is long forgotten.

“It [Tokyo] doesn’t burn any more, I’ve gone past that. If I lingered over that, you wouldn’t have seen what you saw last year,” Hughes says.

“That’s burned bridges now. This is a whole new year, a whole new stadium and an actual crowd. Whole different vibes.

“I’m looking forward to rewriting what was written in 2021. I’m excited.”

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