Chasing Canadian steeplechase record secondary for Matt Hughes

Matt Hughes won't mess with a good thing, even as he threatens to lower his Canadian-record time in the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase.

In discussing his approach to the 2018 season, Hughes and coach Jerry Schumacher decided last fall that the former's focus would be on placing high and accumulating as many Diamond League points as possible rather than attempt to eclipse his personal-best time of eight minutes 11.64 seconds, set at the 2013 world championships in Moscow.

"In the past, I would go into these races thinking, 'I have to hit this split, I have to go through the mile [or 1,500 metres] at this time' and I don't think that plays to my strength as a racer," the five-time national champion said in a phone interview ahead of Friday's 31st Herculis EBS Meeting in Monaco. "I race my best and run my fastest when I just worry about competing."

The Diamond League track and field event will be live streamed at CBCSports.ca, starting at 2 p.m. ET Friday, with the men's steeplechase race scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

Hughes, 28, has been able to concentrate on training, racing and producing consistent times this season after being hampered by a strained calf in 2016 and a right knee injury last season that he suffered while running into a fire hydrant during a workout with his Bowerman Track Club teammates in Portland.

Among Hughes' goals for the balance of this season is to place among the top five at each competition. A week ago, the 28-year-old crossed the line fifth in 8:13.13 at Rabat for his second sub-8:20 clocking of 2018 after attaining that mark just twice in the previous four seasons. That followed a fifth title in the past six years at the Canadian track and field championships in Ottawa, where Hughes won by more than three seconds.

With another strong showing on Friday, the five-foot-nine runner should earn enough points to qualify for the Diamond League final on Aug. 30 at the Weltklasse Zurich meeting.

Hughes said he'll enter Friday's race in better shape than in April at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, where he appeared set to claim a bronze medal and halt Kenya's sixth straight podium sweep. But a dramatic dive over the line to stop the clock in 8:12.33 wasn't enough to overtake Amos Kirui, who edged Hughes by 9-100ths for third spot behind reigning Olympic and world champion Conseslus Kipruto and Abraham Kibiwott.

Hughes, who rebounded to beat the trio in Rabat, has learned this season that Kirui and Kibiwott are a little more vulnerable in a fast race, while noting Kipruto is able to handle both a fast pace and fast kick at the end.

"It was somewhat satisfying to beat those guys but I didn't get [a medal] to show for it," said Hughes, adding he has seen the benefit from taking a mental break following the Commonwealth Games. "It would be nice to start consistently beating these guys at every race, so that's the goal."

Hughes hopes to erase the memory of last year's race in Monaco, where he was "out of it" mentally after hitting the first barrier and falling to the ground. He placed 11th in the 12-man field in 8:38.72, more than 37 seconds behind American winner Evan Jager. However, his second-fastest time ever (8:12.81) came on the fast track at the Stade Louis II in 2014, a fourth-place effort that saw Hughes beat Jager for the first time in a steeplechase.

Skipping NACAC championships

"A lot of people will tell you that you don't remember your best races because you just float through them," said Hughes. "I remember waking up with about 300 metres to go, seeing Evan and thinking I could [catch] him. I passed him and one more guy and all of a sudden I was in fourth place. It was a great experience.

"I think I thrive in that competitive environment. It's always a very good field [in Monaco] and I tend to start the season slow and gain fitness and confidence through the season."

While Hughes' recent victory at nationals automatically qualified him for the NACAC championships Aug. 10-12 in Toronto, he has decided to skip the event to concentrate on the Diamond League final and IAAF Continental Cup in September in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

"They will be more challenging [events] and ultimately better for my development leading into the next Olympics [in 2020]," said Hughes. "I've said in the past it's important for us top runners to race at home … but I think it's more important to have a good race in Monaco and go back to Portland for three or four weeks to get a solid block of training."

Meanwhile, sprinter Aaron Brown returns to the track as the only other Canadian competing in Monaco after capturing double gold in the 100 (10.16 seconds) and 200 metres (20.17) at nationals following his 100 victory at last month's Harry Jerome International Track Classic in Burnaby, B.C.

The 26-year-old from Toronto will be seeking his first Diamond League win of the season in the 200, scheduled for 3:35 p.m. ET. Twice he has finished as high as second — at the Bislett Games in a personal-best 19.98 on June 7 and three days later in Stockholm.

Diamond League on CBC Sports

CBC Sports is providing live streaming coverage of all 14 Diamond League meets this season at CBCSports.ca and via the CBC Sports app for iOS and Android devices. TV coverage will be featured as part of the network's Road To The Olympic Games weekend broadcasts throughout the season.

The following is a list of upcoming Diamond League meets:

- Monaco (Friday, 2 p.m. ET)

- London (Saturday/Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, 9 a.m.)

- Birmingham (Aug. 18, 3 p.m. ET)

- Zurich (Aug. 30, 2 p.m. ET)

- Brussels (Aug. 31, 2 p.m. ET)