Katharine Merry says there is a big opportunity for the sport to make its mark in the US and that Hayward Field could prove an ideal venue

I’ve been going to Eugene since 2009, when I first performed the infield hosting role at the Prefontaine Classic. I don’t believe there is anywhere better in the US to host the first senior outdoor World Athletics Championships on US soil. 

This is a huge opportunity for the sport there and that’s why there will be pressure on the organisers to do a good job. If you haven’t got a ball in your hand in the US, it’s a harder sell, but this is an opportunity and they really do have to smash it out of the park and try to engage new fans who might not think much – or even know much – about track and field. Holding it in Eugene, however, really does provide a good shot at success. 

Fan numbers at the recent US Champs were lower than usual. There has been concern about the lack of accommodation available and the cost of travel to the top left corner of the US.

There are many athletics events for fans to attend in the UK or abroad and I know, as I’ve been told, that spectators have to prioritise which events to go to. I am hoping many have prioritised Eugene as it will be brilliant. 

The crowd there is an interesting one and I’m looking forward to seeing how the championships is presented to the US fans. Of course, people will be coming in from other countries, but what you do in a Diamond League in Birmingham would be received differently in Eugene. The fans in Eugene are very knowledgeable but they’re also, from my experience, picky. It’s a nice kind of picky, but they want action, action, action. 

There will be home athletes for them to cheer on and it has been really interesting to see the excitement levels of the American competitors rising. At this year’s Prefontaine Classic – and last year’s too – it was noticeable when speaking to the home athletes, whether on the infield or at the hotel, you could see it in their eyes that they feel like “Yeah, here we go. I’m really excited for this. This is our time.” 

Katharine Merry (Mark Shearman)

We’ve seen from the recent US trials, too, just how fierce the competition has been to get into the team and I’m looking forward to seeing the athletes raise their game because, make no mistake, they will be under pressure. 

On the other hand, it will be really pleasing to see them get some appreciation in their own backyard. American athletes are used to coming to Europe and getting that appreciation but they don’t get it so often at home. 

You can expect Ryan Crouser, who comes from Oregon, to be front and centre. The men’s shot put has been amazing in recent years and I think, with Ryan and his Oregon connection – plus the other guys throwing so well – that will be one of the events to watch. It will spread the attention towards other events for a home crowd who traditionally love the distance events. 

Potentially Sydney McLaughlin is unstoppable in the 400m hurdles, lowering her own world record at the US Trials. Olympic champion Athing Mu is a serious force in the 800m but I do expect Keely Hodgkinson to battle with her again like she did in Tokyo. Keely is clearly one of Britain’s biggest medal hopes for Eugene. 

Athing Mu takes 800m gold ahead of Keely Hodgkinson (Getty)

She has run at the past two Prefontaine Classic meetings and now has experience of what’s involved in competing at Hayward Field. There will be no surprises for her and her form during this outdoor season has just been spectacular.  

The reigning world 200m champion, Dina Asher-Smith, who competed at the old Hayward Field when the World Junior Championships were staged there in 2014, will return again with the new British 100m champion Daryll Neita to fly our flag in the loaded sprint fields. 

I must admit, though, that I’ll be paying particular attention in my stadium commentary role to one British athlete in the men’s 400m – an athlete who has already shone in Eugene this year when breaking the long-standing 400m national record at Hayward Field.

Matt Hudson-Smith is starting to fully bloom. We’re good friends and I have always been happy to be on hand to help with words of advice over the years. A challenging few years are behind him. 

Our new British record-holder is in a very good place and, as the President of Birchfield Harriers, seeing him breaking the club record was also fantastic! 

What has made the difference? You can talk about him changing his training set-up, moving groups and taking opportunities that have been presented to him – and all of that is accurate – but he has also matured a hell of a lot.

He will say that he’s running a lot smarter. He’s listening to his body a lot more, too. 

Matthew Hudson-Smith (Getty)

I was impressed that when I spoke to him right after he’d broken the British record he only gave his performance a six out of ten. I was expecting him to give himself at least a nine! His words were very accurate, though, in that there is more to come. He wasn’t into the “meat and potatoes” of his training at the time so it’s hugely exciting to see what might be possible. 

All Matt is doing, though, is showing us what we know has been there for a long time. It’s just that he’s never been able to put that great performance fully together – whether that’s been through injury, because of where he’s been at in his life or his mindset. I think he has real belief now.

Let’s not forget the infamous comments from when he first went to America and I think it was Noah Lyles who shared how Matt nearly killed himself because he didn’t know how to cook chicken properly. He thought it should be medium rare or something like that! He got exposed for his lack of, let’s say, living skills, but that’s changed now. 

He can cook, he’s in a good relationship and is in a good place. These things make a difference. 

I remember Linford Christie telling us that we had to be happy off the track to be happy on it. 

I also said to Matt that you’ve got to be consistently healthy and, if you’re consistently healthy, you’ll start to perform consistently… and consistently fast. 

» This article first appeared in the July issue of AW magazine, which you can buy here