Reigning European champion Matthew Hudson-Smith (coach: Gary Evans, club: Birchfield) added a silver medal to his rapidly growing individual global medal collection after a blistering run in the men’s 400m final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest on a night where another four British athletes successfully guaranteed their own finals places.
Hudson-Smith, who claimed his first individual global medal 13 months ago with bronze in Eugene, left absolutely nothing to chance in a sensational men’s 400m final, attacking every metre, to claim a superb silver in 44.31 – less than a tenth of a second away from becoming Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s first ever world champion in the distance after Jamaica’s Antonio Watson finished extremely fast to secure gold.
On a night where there were seven Brits attempting to progress to finals – Daryll Neita (Marco Airale, Cambridge Harriers) set the tone by scorching to a personal best of 22.21 seconds in the women’s 200m. Dina Asher-Smith (John Blackie, Blackheath & Bromley) also ran well to qualify automatically in second in her semi-final as two more Brits will compete together in a final in Budapest.
The bronze medallist over 100m, Zharnel Hughes (Glen Mills, Shaftesbury Barnet), wasn’t drawn into a battle as he controlled his own race to reach the men’s 200m final and guarantee a shot a second medal while Ben Pattison (Dave Ragan, Basingstoke and Mid Hants) – had to wait – but was confirmed as a non-automatic qualifier out of the men’s 800m semi-finals.
Special mention needs to go Bianca Williams (Linford Christie, Thames Valley) – competing individually at a worlds for the first time since 2017 – who scratched a nine-year itch in the women’s 200m semi-finals, not reaching the final, but lowering her personal best by 0.13 to 22.45 while Anna Purchase (Mohamed Ali Saatara, Notts) will be pleased with 11th place in the women’s hammer final on her global debut on the banks of the Danube.
Hudson-Smith’s silver ensured there was a British medallist on successive nights in Budapest after three across the opening weekend – the tally now for the GB&NI team standing at five – two gold, two silver and one bronze – and Hudson-Smith said: “Under the circumstances – I’m not even supposed to be here. I have had really bad Achilles tendonitis – that is why I have been pulling up a lot. Sometimes I can’t walk, sometimes I can.
“I have been saying all year that I only need to be perfect for three days – I was alright today. I got a bronze last year, I got a silver this year so next time gold.”
Hudson-Smith lined up in the men’s 400m final in the shape of his life having broken a near 36-year-old European record in the semi-finals with a blistering 44.26 clocking – and it was clear what his intentions were from the off.
He stormed out of the blocks, and it was obvious again that he was leading after 200m. Around the bend he still looked supremely strong – and in front – and he committed all the way to the line to claim successive World Championship medals and a silver upgrade.
It looked for a long time like it would be gold but Jamaican Watson finished extremely fast to agonisingly pip Hudson-Smith by just 0.09 as he clocked 44.22 to the European record holder’s 44.31.
Hudson-Smith added: “She [Christine Ohuruogu] knows what I have been through this year but under the circumstances, I can’t complain. It has been a crazy year. For the last two weeks, I have been rehabbing every single day – it has been crazy.
“I just committed. I have been looking for that gear. I had it in the semi-finals but I won the race and I was able to pull away but I’ve got to get him back. I’ve got two now – the guy who got me at Birmingham [Commonwealth Games] and this guy [Watson]. I’ll get them.”
Neita became the latest British athlete at these Championships to break her personal best as a fiercely strong bend in the second of the three women’s 200m semi-finals set her up perfectly not only for that lifetime mark but for comfortable qualification into the final.
The British champion over the distance, Neita’s bend was so good she led the race coming out of it with that still the case with 50m to go. St Lucia’s Julien Alfred would edge past her for the victory, but Neita kept pushing to the line for that personal best.
Neita would stop the clock at 22.21 – 0.02 better than her previous best set in Poland back in June – to qualify automatically and rank fifth quickest overall going into the final. She said: “It’s so good to find an event that represents who I am and not be struggling at the back in another – which I am still very good at, but I have so much fun in the 200.
“I can come and shine! I’m happy Dazza! I can’t wait to watch it back. It just felt like me and it’s nice to find an event that I can really represent myself in. I ran a PB and so I raised the game and raised myself to the occasion and so I am really happy today.”
As the first British athlete out on the track on the sixth night, Asher-Smith set the tone as she drove out of the blocks and ran a great bend in the first of the three women’s 200m semi-finals, quickly on the shoulder of Jamaican Natalliah Whyte in the lane to her right.
She powered out of the bend and down the home straight and, while American Gabrielle Thomas would pull away to win that semi-final, Asher-Smith knew she was assured second place and automatic qualification as she posted 22.28.
That is the second quickest time this season for the 2019 world champion in the 200m and 0.18 faster than the heats, and Asher-Smith said: “I feel really good. I woke up today and felt fresh which is remarkable for day four – probably because the 100m went the way it did. I just wanted to come here – bearing in mind that we have got another race tomorrow – and put together a faster race than yesterday and just look to get that auto Q spot for tomorrow.
“It was good. It was about controlling the race. Obviously every single race in this Championships you go to win – but you have also got to do it with a mind for the next day. I wanted to run a strong bend, run a very good race – I was happy. I could see Gabby and I was thinking ‘are we going to hunt?’ but I thought I was clear so let’s just complete this, stay relaxed and leave it for tomorrow.
“It is a World Championships – that is exactly what we are here for. Women’s sprinting is phenomenal right now. I am proud that it’s one of the absolute headline events of a major championships. I am proud to be in the final again and just like last year we are going to bring it.”
In the third of the women’s 200m semi-finals Williams took a significant chunk off the personal best she set all the way back in 2014 on the way to Commonwealth bronze in Glasgow as a 20-year-old.
A lot has changed for Williams in that near decade-long period – including the birth of her son Zuri in 2020 – but her personal race was perfect as she powered around the bend and down the home straight in arguably the toughest of the three semi-finals.
Williams was unfortunately outside of the top two that would automatically qualify – Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson and American 100m champion Sha’Carri Richardson – and just out of the two next fastest qualifiers but stopping the clock at 22.45 was a brilliant achievement.
It would rank her 11th overall – and 0.13 better than that 2014 mark on her first individual global appearance in six years – and Williams said: “It is crazy because I didn’t think it would be possible to break my PB again because it has been so long, but this past year has been incredible. I am grateful to have this opportunity to run fast here and have the Olympic qualifying standard under my belt.
“My last World Championships as an individual was 2017. I missed Doha due to pregnancy and then in Oregon, I was there for the relay but didn’t run. So, to come back here and really perform at a major Championships means the absolute world.”
For Hughes in the men’s 200m semi-finals that followed – the instruction was to run a controlled race and that is exactly what he did – the bronze medallist from the 100m already here in Budapest unfazed by what American Erriyon Knighton was doing in the lane to his left.
Knighton went out for the lead and had it out of the bend, although Hughes genuinely did not look concerned as he wasn’t drawn into any antics. There was little between the pair over the last 75m as just 0.04 separated them at the line.
Hughes would allow Knighton the win in 19.98 with Hughes’ time of 20.02 ranking him fifth overall following the completion of the three semi-finals. He said: “Controlled running – that is what the instruction was today. Don’t try to do anything crazy, just qualify.
“I knew he [Knighton] was going to do it [pressurise me], he was going to run up on me. I just had to run my own race. I am looking forward to being out there tomorrow. Definitely bring my A game. I don’t care who is in the race with me – I am going to run.”
Purchase was the first of the two British finalists to compete on the sixth night in Budapest in the women’s hammer final. Having already achieved her goal of making the final, Purchase did not register a mark with her first attempt but responded second time out.
She threw a distance of 68.82m with that second attempt before improving further with her third effort – launching the hammer out to 70.29m. That was short of her 71.31m from qualifying and would end her competition with only the top eight getting another three throws.
Purchase would place 11th in her the first World Championship final of her career and she said: “I gave it my all today but I didn’t just quite have enough in the tank. 11th in the world and making the final is incredible – I can’t ask for more from my first World Championships, I can’t be upset with it.
“I think I have made huge progress this year – in the throwing cage and with my mental health. I’ve had a lot of communication with my coach and a lot of support from those in my training environment. I had a tough summer in 2022 and we’ve learned from that and come here to enjoy it and show up for myself, and I did that. I belong here, I made it to the final, I’ve just got to be a little more competitive in the final next time.”
On a night with seven Brits in semi-finals action, Pattison was the first to go in the men’s 800m. He settled himself into fifth after the first 200m of the first semi-final as Australian Joseph Deng led it out.
Pattison started to shift down the back straight moving into fourth before kicking around the final bend and going wide on the home straight – with as many as seven going for the two automatic places in the final metres.
Pattison would just miss out on the top two but made sure he was next in third in 1:44.23 to still be contention as a non-automatic qualifier, albeit with a wait to see how the remaining two semi-finals would go.
The agonising wait ended well for Pattison as his time saw him claim the very last place in the final and he said: “I was locked up in that room [the Q room], which was weird. It’s good for the fans, I could see why it is enjoyable, but for the athletes? I did not like it.
“I just didn’t want to watch, you don’t want to be upset by watching your teammate run a good time. Obviously I wanted us all to get through, but it was a weird experience for sure. Eighth in the world at worst is not bad is it?
“I’ll have a little jog tomorrow but I just ran the second fastest time of my career so I’m in shape. I just need to get there to that final in one piece.”
Daniel Rowden (Jon Bigg, Woodford Green & Essex Ladies) was well positioned in the second of the men’s 800m semi-finals in second throughout the majority of the first half and then some. He initially managed a shove from Algeria’s Djamel Sedjati well, but it was a struggle over the last 200m as the field came through.
The British champion would battle to the line but would place seventh in 1:45.38 to unfortunately miss out on a place in the final – and at the time, and in contrast to his own, keep Pattison’s final hopes alive.
Rowden said: “I thought I put myself in the right positions but I just didn’t have the legs. I don’t know why, training has been going better than that and my legs just fell away.
“Back to the drawing board and see why my legs went like that, training has been going really well. I am in really good shape, and for some reason I just couldn’t get out today – that’s a real shame. But I am really happy for Ben, I know I’ve got work to do. I am not the finished article yet.”
In the final men’s 800m semi-final, Max Burgin (Ian Burgin, Halifax) surged to the front and set a quick pace – however that might have worked against him come the end of the race. His pace strung out the field at the bell and he was still leading down the back straight.
Burgin was unable to hold it though as he faded to finish eighth in 1:47.60 and he said: “I don’t know what to say really – it just felt like my legs went to lead. I was seizing up before they passed me, I was just slowing down. I can’t really explain it – it just didn’t feel like me at all.
“Maybe I’ve missed out on a bit of training and you can get away with it for one race, but not two. I don’t know, we’ll have to look back on it. I’m happy for Ben that at least one of us Brits got through.”
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland medal tally:
Gold (2): Katarina Johnson-Thompson – Women’s Heptathlon, Josh Kerr – Men’s 1500m
Silver (2): Mixed 4x400m Relay, Matthew Hudson-Smith – Men’s 400m
Bronze (1): Zharnel Hughes – Men’s 100m