It’s all starting to happen for Dina Asher-Smith. Britain’s 22-year-old sprinting talent, fresh from 100, 200 and 4×1 golds at the European Championships, has stepped not just onto the top of the podium, but also up to an entirely new level of exposure—and, of course, expectation.
Her 200 victory in the stadium where Jesse Owens had earned three sprinting golds at the ’36 Olympics was watched live by 3.3 million BBC-TV viewers. She did not disappoint, following up her earlier 100 win in 10.85—equal fastest in the world this year—with the world’s outright fastest 200 time, 21.89. After her anchor leg in the relay had lifted Britain from 4th to 1st, the bookies were not slow in shouting the odds for this King’s College, London, history graduate to make her own golden history at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. According to Betway, she is a 9/2 hope to reach the top of the podium in Japan.
Meanwhile this young woman from Orpington, in Kent, coached by John Blackie as a member of the Blackheath & Bromley Harriers Athletic Club, has earned high praise from the UK Athletics Performance Director, Neil Black, who has worked in the sport for more than 25 years. “We knew that Dina had loads of talent,” he told The Guardian. “But what she’s done is incredible. It’s better than anything I’ve seen in my time at UK Athletics, really. She has been so focused, so determined, so professional and so calm. She is a pleasure to have around and has really demonstrated to everyone else in the team how to go about performing at the highest level.”
“There is more to come, and she knows that,” he added. “I honestly think this is the beginning. I think she is going to run even faster. And I am absolutely sure all her competitors across the world have finally registered what she can do. When you put Dina’s multiple gold medal-winning and world-leading, world-class times together, if they are not fearful, if they are not respectful, then they must be crazy.”
Asher-Smith was actually defending her 200 title in Berlin, but her victory in Amsterdam 2 years ago came in a race that lacked the home world champion Dafne Schippers, who chose, in an event that preceded the Rio Games, to concentrate on retaining her European 100 title. Schippers went on to defend her world 200 crown in London last year in a race where Asher-Smith finished 4th. For her own part, however, the British sprinter’s preparations had been traumatically undermined by a freak training accident in February that had left her with a broken foot.
Earlier this season she went out early to Australia to prepare for the Commonwealth Games, where she finished 3rd in the 200 in 22.29 behind the Olympic 400 gold medalist, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, who won in 22.09, and Shericka Jackson of Jamaica, who clocked 22.18.
Fast forward 4 months, and Asher-Smith found herself as one of the standout performers in what has been one of the finest European Championships in the event’s history—indeed, in the estimation of the EA President Svein Arne Hansen, the best ever.
“It’s been a crazy championships!” said Asher-Smith in the aftermath of her second individual gold. “I really wanted to do a good time, but wasn’t expecting to take the world lead in the 200m. I had a lot of fun, and didn’t expect to run this fast when I’m still tired from the 100m final. I know this is not the Olympic Games or the World Championships, but I’m still very proud of myself. My mum and dad, my physio, and some friends are here, and I know they are very proud of me. I still have a lot in me to give. But I need to focus on running my own race.”
The day after getting back from Berlin, Asher-Smith was interviewed on ITV’s Good Morning Britain and asked about the huge media coverage of her triple triumph. She wasn’t remotely fazed. “I don’t personally read the papers anyway,” she said. “I don’t really know. All my friends were going crazy and I had no idea. But for me I just kind of stay in my own little bubble in my own little world, because at the end of the day its really nice having everybody wanting me to do well and hoping I do well, but maybe if that switches I’ve got to have my own confidence, my own self-belief.”
Talking to her after her 100 in Berlin, it was clear that behind her vivacity there lies a thoughtful and highly competitive character. “For me, I’ve worked out over the years, I have to be chilled to run well,” she said. “Some people they have to be really serious, really committed and focused, some people have to be like nervous and kind of scared, but for me I just have to be happy. I have to be in a good mood. So I’m listening to my favorite music, having a bit of a dance, chilled out. I found out from London last year, just trial and error, that a happy and relaxed Dina is a fast Dina.”
And there was evidence even in that post-race chat with media that a fast Dina is also a sharp Dina. Raising the inevitable subject of 2020 after the 100 final, a reporter commented, “You’ve got to feel like you can take on the best in the world now, you’ve got the fastest time in the world now and…” Suddenly he had been vivaciously interrupted by his interviewee: “Equal. Equal. Equal. Equal. You have to say ‘equal’ because I can’t say I’m the fastest.”
But then, like the good student, Asher-Smith answered the question asked: “We’ll have to wait and see because by then there will probably be new faces, new names. But ultimately we do work in cycles and I’m building on to Tokyo. Equal. I’ll take it. It’s better than none.”
The same caution, the same sharpness, was evident later in her ITV appearance as an interviewer interrupted her to put the following unformed question: “You won the 100m. Gold. Then you went on and did the 200m. Gold. Is there more pressure on each one you go into, or is it because you are so elated there is, I mean how do you feel? When you see athletes lining up I think we all want to know what is going on in your head and…” At this point Asher-Smith, with another giggle, has already provided a single word answer: “Run.” Before adding, smilingly: “It’s pretty basic. Pretty basic.”
As Black commented in his assessment of the fastest British sprinter ever: “On the surface she is this lovely, butter-wouldn’t-melt person but underneath it she is ruthless when she needs to be. She works out with real clarity what needs to be done and I don’t think she lets anything get in the way.”
Worth watching all the way to Tokyo and beyond. But she won’t be making any easy assumptions… □