DINA DIGS DEEP
DINA ASHER-SMITH HAS LEARNED SOME VALUABLE LESSONS IN 2017 AND TELLS EUAN CRUMLEY ABOUT HER PRIDE AT BATTLING BACK AFTER INJURY
“IT’S BEEN A LONG YEAR. I DEFINITELY NEED A BREAK. IT HAS BEEN INTERESTING FOR ME, AS STARTING OFF I DID NOT KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. I HOPED I WAS GOING TO HAVE A GOOD SEASON”
DINA ASHER-SMITH won’t be forgetting 2017 in a hurry. Not only will she look back on it as the year in which she graduated from university, but also as the one when she received an education about herself and discovered some reserves of strength and character she didn’t quite know she had.
The world championships year had begun in hope and expectation but, in February, during her last training session before the Müller Indoor Grand Prix meeting in Birmingham, the British record-holder over 100m and 200m landed awkwardly on her foot and fractured it. From that point on she was involved in a race to be fit for London.
That she even made it to the IAAF
World Championships start line is quite an achievement in itself when you consider how painful and daunting the rehabilitation process was. She was only back jogging in June, after all.
The level of performances she has produced since returning to the track gets even more impressive given that this was all being balanced with studies, dissertations, exams and everything else that comes with completing a history degree at
King’s College in London, from which she emerged with a 2:1.
Since London 2017, during which she narrowly missed out on bronze in the 200m and won silver in the 4x100m, Asher-Smith has continued to impress on the track with performances such as her recent 200m victory over world silver medallist Marie-Josée Ta Lou at the IAAF Challenge meeting in Berlin. The season ended on a winning note, too, over 150m at the Great North CityGames.
You could understand if the 21-yearold felt like it was all coming to an end too soon but she admits that a break is most definitely required. Now it’s time for a trip to Rome, Venice and Anguilla, one of the islands to have been hit by Hurricane Irma and home to the family of her boyfriend, fellow sprinter Zharnel Hughes. “They are okay,” she says.
When Asher-Smith does get the chance to unwind, reflect and let such a hugely eventful time all sink in, there will be an overriding sense of pride.
“It’s been a long year, I definitely need a break,” she smiles. “It has been interesting for me, as starting off I did not know what was going to happen.
“I hoped I was going to have a good season, I hoped that London was going to go well. But it was very hit and miss. Everything in my rehab programme had to go exactly to plan. We didn’t have a week or two weeks to mess about and get it wrong and have to re-adjust.
“We did not have that time-frame. Everything was very much timed to running well in London. It had to follow that plan otherwise I would not be in the right shape.
That was very, very intense and it’s been an intense year as well with graduating at uni. I am very happy and a little surprised and proud – something I don’t say very often – about how it has turned out.”
“Any athlete will tell you that when you have rehab on a tight timescale it is far harder than training,” she adds. “Everything is much more intense, everything is so much more painful and the stakes are so much higher.
“If a training session doesn’t go according to plan, it’s okay, you can work the next day and catch up. With rehab if you don’t get what you want out of it then technically you are put back a day, you are put back a week and you have to come back and do the same as you did yesterday, when you really want to be moving on.
“It was a very painful rehab. Breaking your foot and having to get back to running on it is not very nice – so far more intensive than training. It’s been mentally draining so when the world champs finished I was so happy and had such a high but then mentally I felt “I’m exhausted” because
I had been pushing, pushing, pushing effectively since last September and then January, pushing into indoors.
“Then I break my foot and there’s uni, exams, dissertation, rehab, pushing, pushing, pushing, having to find form, into outdoors, going straight into worlds, phew! It’s over. I’m tired. I’m going to enjoy my holiday. My phone is off unless there is an emergency or very good gossip.”
She might not have chosen to go through all of this, but Asher-Smith admits it will be good for her long-term health and career that she has added considerably to her armoury by successfully coming through a time which has bordered on the traumatic.
“These were, mentally and physically, some of the biggest tests I have had to go through,” she says. “I hope I don’t have another one like that but, even if I do, I know it is possible (to get through it). Breaking a foot, turning it around and going to world champs six months later is pretty unheard of so I was pretty proud of myself and the rest of my wider team – my physio, the medical team and my coach as well, who looked after everything – that we were able to do that.
“Now if I tear a hamstring – obviously I don’t want to – I’ll think ‘fine, four weeks out, rehab and go – easy’. Nothing compared to three to four months out and then having to go to a home world champs a couple of weeks later.”
Asher-Smith’s natural demeanour is one which screams of positivity and remaining upbeat. She does admit, however, to darker moments during her comeback attempt.
“There were points like that, but you have to push those thoughts out of your head,” she says. “There was a transition when I’d had surgery and even if you put the foot down, the blood flow goes down to it, your foot starts screaming and you can’t do that for more than 30 seconds, that was hard.
“It was particularly hard at the beginning of June when I began to jog on grass for the first time. That was quite painful and I was surprised how painful jogging would be, and surprised how painful just doing skips or drills would be. You have to build it up but mentally that is quite difficult when you see the rest of your group doing blocks. You are thinking, ‘I cannot even do my drills, how am I going to be able to push the foot down to get out of blocks?’”
Progress, however, was considerable – albeit gradual.
“With good people around you and just by believing in yourself you get through it and gradually I went from drills, to getting in spikes, sprinting on the hard track which was a great achievement,” adds AsherSmith. “When I did my first sprinting session I was on cloud nine. That was a week before trials. Getting into blocks and being able to compete. It’s been difficult, mentally tough and very painful but something great to have overcome.
“When I was able to get on the track that was a turning point because that was a mental barrier between going from being on the underwater treadmill where there is no weight on your foot to going back on land.
“Putting on spikes was a big turning point because you are close to running, close to sprinting and close to being back to normal. But the turning point in terms of being competitive in the worlds was probably the holding camp in Paris when I did a 250m in a way my coach was happy with, I was happy with and it felt good.
“I knew that I was in the shape to run a low 22 but just once, because I didn’t have
“THEN I BREAK MY FOOT AND THERE’S UNI, EXAMS, DISSERTATION, REHAB, PUSHING, PUSHING, PUSHING, HAVING TO FIND FORM, INTO OUTDOORS, GOING STRAIGHT INTO WORLDS, PHEW!
IT’S OVER. I’M
TIRED. I’M GOING TO ENJOY MY HOLIDAY”
all that training behind me. I wouldn’t have been able to do that in every round! I knew that if I timed it right and ran the right kind of phases in the race, I could do something good. That came in the Paris holding camp, so quite late ... but it doesn’t matter if it comes late – just as long as it comes!”
Then came the small matter of running in a global championships. Where normally that would bring pressures both internal and external, one of the more positive byproducts of her build-up meant Asher-Smith could approach the showpiece occasion rather differently.
“I loved London because for me there was no pressure,” she says. “I’d say it was a luxury because I didn’t have the curse of having a good season. I didn’t have the curse of running the whole season with good performances so that, because it is a home championship, the whole public’s expectation is then lumped on you – which is an honour but also a great burden to carry, especially going into a championship, so I was quite fortunate that everybody was like “she’s so happy to be here, we are happy she is here. Go out and do what you can do, we are proud”, which is a great weight off your shoulders.
“So you are free to run, not worried about other people’s expectations, because you can feel that the crowd is just so genuinely happy to see you on the line and are appreciative of anything you can do. You can concentrate on yourself without worrying about, “am I disappointing somebody?” because you know you have already made them proud, which is a big thing to me.
“I enjoyed every second of it. Before the final we were in great spirits, my team and I, because it had been such a great achievement to get there. First I wanted to go under 23, then going under 22.5 would have been a good target and what I was targeting so to come out with 22.22 and just outside of bronze, I was absolutely over the moon.”
That performance has also planted the seed of what might truly be possible in the future.
“I am so excited. It has made me rejig my assessments for next year and my whole career really because I did not know the characteristics I had to pull out – like perseverance, hard work and staying focused even when it seems that the world and timing and everything is against you,” says Asher-Smith, who is targeting a senior debut at the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships in Berlin but has yet to decide on the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
“And I did not know that I could do it to the extent I needed to to pull myself back into London. So I want to carry the selfbelief and those traits that I dragged out of myself this year into the rest of my career. And it is exciting with Commonwealths and Europeans next year – they are really good stepping stones and then I’m looking to go and do well in Doha and Tokyo.”
Natural performer: Dina Asher-Smith enjoys the attention of the fans on Tyneside