Athletics Weekly - - The Big Feature - PIC­TURES: NORTH NEWS & MARK SHEAR­MAN


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.”

Jus­ti­fi­ably so.

“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




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

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