When Dina Asher-Smith ran her first cross-country race in primary school she hated it so much she nearly stopped – only for her parents to bribe her with an ice cream to keep going. It worked – and then some. Asher-Smith ended up sprinting through the field to finish fifth out of 400 and a glittering athletics career was born.
Now, at the age of 25, Asher-Smith has accumulated an athletics CV to die for. It includes five world championship medals – including world 200m gold and 100m silver in Doha in 2019 – as well as a 4x100m bronze at the Rio Olympics and numerous British records. Now she is at her peak and seeking to achieve what no British female sprinter has accomplished before: win Olympic gold over 100m or 200m.
“I’m in good shape, I’m actually in really, really good shape so I’m really excited,” she says when asked whether she can make history. “And I’m a championship performer.”
She will have to be. On paper, her biggest rivals have all gone faster than her in 2021. In the 100m, for instance, the world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has run 10.63sec, making her the second quickest woman ever behind Florence Griffith Joyner – while the reigning Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah recently flew home in 10.71sec. But races are not won on paper.
“I definitely have faster in me,” says Asher-Smith, who believes the strength and conditioning work she put in during the pandemic will pay rich dividends in Tokyo. “I’m much, much stronger physically. I’ve been doing over 300 ab exercises in a training session. I’m much more technically proficient too.”
While the 100m final will be spectacular, the 200m later in the week could be even better with six women all having legitimate shots at gold. The American Gabby Thomas is the bookies’ favourite, having run 21.61sec last month, making her the second fastest woman of all time over 200m (again behind Griffith Joyner). But it remains to be seen how Thomas, who has a Harvard degree to go with her staggering talent on the track, will handle the unique pressures of her first Olympics.
Meanwhile Asher-Smith, whose personal best is 21.88, is second favourite – alongside the Bahamian Shaunae Miller-Uibo and three Jamaicans, Fraser-Pryce, Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson – and will enter the race thinking she can win gold. She certainly has left nothing to chance. So dogged was her pursuit of world championship gold in Doha in 2019 that she refused to allow bread, sweets or wine to touch her lips for several months. Unsurprisingly she has been just as abstinent this time around.
Can she go all the way? The World Athletics president, Sebastian Coe, certainly thinks so. He has predicted Asher-Smith will be the poster girl of the British team in Tokyo. There is also no doubt that victory in the blue riband event will catapult her into the sporting stratosphere. And Asher-Smith has every intention of making the leap.