By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Oshawa’s Matt Hughes had a pair of game plans going into his final race on July 21.
Both involved a push for gold near the end of the race; it was just a question of when.
“I was either going to go with a (kilometre) to go, or make my move at just before a lap to go,” Hughes says.
Well, it was the wind that made his decision for him. He made his push late, and with 500 meters to go, the 25-year-old made his move, pulling ahead of the pack and raising his arms in victory as he crossed the finish line ahead of all of his competitors.
“You practice it in training all the time,” he says of that final push of adrenaline. “But I felt like the crowd was just amazing out there.”
Hughes says his mother organized a busload of nearly 70 friends and family to hit the stadium at York University to cheer him on.
“All my family was in one huge group section on the back straight so, it was funny, coming down the last 300 meters on the back straight, they were just so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think or breathe or anything,” he says.
The graduate of Paul Dwyer is a two-time NCAA champion in the steeplechase and is now the top-ranked Canadian in the 3000 metre steeplechase and 5000 metre run.
Going into the gold medal race, Hughes was a favourite to win, and instead of pushing those thoughts away, he says he embraced them, and used them to his advantage.
“I feel like I’m the type of athlete that thrives under pressure,” he says. “I feel like I get the best out of myself when I’m under those pressured situations.
“I wasn’t shy to keep away the thought from creeping into my head the day before, and the morning before the face, of possibly doing a victory lap, or possibly winning in front of family and friends, and raising your arms in celebration once you cross the finish line,” he says. “I let myself think those thoughts because if you’re not thinking them or dreaming them, they’re never going to happen in reality. So I don’t let those things bug me and I just use them to my advantage more or less.”
Like many Pan Am athletes, the Rio Olympics next year are an end goal. For Hughes, with his Pan Am finish, he will only need to finish in the top three at nationals to qualify for Rio.