Matt Hughes is a distance runner from Oshawa, Ontario who just completed his junior season at the University of Louisville. Coming off a personal best performance in the 3000m steeplechase of 8:34 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round, Hughes dropped another three seconds to become the first Canadian to capture the NCAA steeplechase title since Matt Kerr accomplished the same feat for the University of Arkansas in 1999. Tnfnorth.ca caught up with newly crowned champion this weekend.
AM: Congrats on the big win this weekend. What was your mentality coming into the meet having run an 8:34 in the Preliminary Round?
Hughes: Thanks. First of all I'd like to thank everyone back in Canada for all their support. It's been great and I appreciate it. After running the 8:34 it gave me the confidence I needed...just knowing that I could run with anyone in the country. I wanted to come into the national meet knowing that I have one of the best times rather than coming in short and wondering what my chances would be. I knew that if I showed up and trusted in my training it would all come together.
AM: You had a lead with Hillary Bor of Iowa State close on your heels heading into the final lap and then you poured it on. When did you know you had the race won?
Hughes: The plan going into the race was to open it up with 800m to go, and then make another hard move at 600m. With 400m to go I could feel Bor there, but by the water jump with 500m to go I saw on the Jumbotron that I had a significant lead and I knew that if I made it over the last two barriers without messing up, I had it won. Sprinting down the final straight after the last barrier was a feeling that I had never felt in racing before. I had done so much in leading up to that point, it's almost impossible to put into words.
Hughes beat the field by eight seconds (Photo: Tracktown Photos)
AM: Any special plans on celebrating the big win? Are you going to Disneyland?
Hughes: No big plans...just got back to Louisville not too long ago. I'm heading back to Canada in the morning. No real big celebrations planned...probably just a bunch of little ones! Chilling with my family and friends up at the cottage most likely...that'll be celebration enough.
AM: What is the racing/training plan for the summer now that NCAAs are completed?
Hughes: I haven't had much rest since January and I plan on relaxing this summer and taking a much needed break. After that I'll start to gear up for cross country in the fall. So yeah, no racing during the summer for me, maybe a few road races but that’s it.
AM: You suffered through some rough patches during the cross country season. What was that like and what was the greatest adversity you had to overcome to reach this point?
Hughes: Half way through cross I found out I was anemic with a serious iron deficiency so most of the season was just battle through that. It was a frustrating knowing that I wasn't running at my full potential. It just took a lot of time and rest to mend my body and mind. Coach (Brice) Allen saw to it that I was taken care of. It was reassuring to know that the coaches had my health at a higher priority than my performance. Being a distance runner you need to have a short memory, forget about the season you just had and look forward to the one you are about to succeed in.
AM: Can you compare your training now at Louisville to your training in high school?
Hughes: Coach Allen and Coach (Ron) Mann's program here at Louisville is very similar to my training with Kevin Dillon at (Paul) Dwyer High School. Not only do Coach Allen and I have great communication about my training but he also had my best interest at hand. He also stays in touch with Kevin about my training. The coaches here at Louisville think long term and are committed to helping me achieve my future goals. They genuinely want to see me succeed at the post collegiate level.
AM: Having been an OFSAA steeplechase champion and now an NCAA steeplechase champion, which accomplishment ranks higher in your mind?
Hughes: Both rank high. In high school, winning an OFSAA gold was like winning an Olympic medal for a high school kid. I thought nothing could compare. My goal coming into college was to hopefully be competing for a national championship by my senior year. I never thought it would come this quickly. Having won it this year just gives me that much more confidence in the future. You need to believe that you can compete with anyone to ultimately succeed! I don't think what I did this weekend has fully set in yet but, I'm sure when I get home it will.
AM: Can you confirm or deny the allegations that you and Louisville teammate Matt Bruce have never been more than 100m apart?
Hughes: To be honest I don't think we've spent more than 2 or 3 weeks apart over the last 3 years (laughs). Having been roommates at Clemson and now Louisville...it’s hard to get away from the guy! (Laughs). All jokes aside though, going away to school anywhere is a big adjustment. Having a friend around who has known you since grade school makes it easier. Bruce is a great friend and there are not too many people I would pick other than him to spend 4-5 years in college. A lot of people think we chose Louisville together but it just turned out to be the best situation for the two of us.
AM: On a serious note, what has it been like having a training partner from your hometown like Matt throughout college?
Hughes: It's been awesome having one of my best friends to live and train with. People always thought we (Dwyer and McLaughlin for that matter) were such rivals in high school (attending Dwyer and Mclaughlin high schools in Oshawa). Our teams have traveled and trained together. We've challenged each other to be the best we could be. Of course you want to win, but we have always been genuinely happy with each other’s successes and shared the grief of one another's losses. You couldn't ask for a more ideal situation! I'd also be remised if I didn't add (Florida State’s Matt) Leeder to this conversation. We all thrive off each other’s accomplishments.
AM: How good do you think the two of you can be in cross country coming off individual Big East titles this past season?
Hughes: If I run like I just did this past outdoor season and Bruce can replicate what he did indoors, I have no doubt in my mind that we can both be All-Americans in the fall Fall. Our cross country team is going to surprise a lot of people next year. Coach Allen will have us prepared like he always does, and we'll have a lot of fun along the way.