Dina Asher-smith

The golden girl shares her suc­cess se­crets and talks about life af­ter the Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onships

Runner's World (UK) - - Contents -

Dina Asher-smith is eight years old and she thinks she’s go­ing to die. Her heart is pound­ing and she can taste blood in her mouth. Be­hind her, hun­dreds of south Lon­don school­child­ren are try­ing to catch up with her.

Mo­ments later, she’s be­ing hugged and con­grat­u­lated by her mother: Asher-smith has just fin­ished fifth in the Brom­ley schools cross-coun­try – her first ever race.

might put some peo­ple off SUCH A BAP­TISM OF FIRE run­ning for life (she had, af­ter all, only agreed to join the school run­ning club on the con­di­tion that her friend would buy her an ice cream af­ter the first train­ing ses­sion). But, as she has shown con­sis­tently over the last 14 years, Asher- Smith is not like other run­ners.

Hav­ing moved from cross- coun­try to track, she quickly emerged as one of Bri­tain’s bright­est sprint­ing hopes. In 2015, she be­came the first Bri­tish woman to run un­der 11 sec­onds for the 100m. The fol­low­ing year, at the Rio Olympics, she helped the Bri­tish quar­tet se­cure bronze in the 4x100m. But it was at this year’s Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onships in Ber­lin that Asher-smith truly came of age. In the same sta­dium in which Jesse Owens won mul­ti­ple Olympic golds in 1936, she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m re­lay – the first Bri­tish woman to do so.

As well as mak­ing his­tory, Asher- Smith has stud­ied it, grad­u­at­ing from King’s Col­lege Lon­don with a de­gree in the sub­ject. Fur­ther­more, with Jes­sica En­nis-hill now re­tired, she’s the charis­matic, well-rounded break­out star that Team GB needs – with a megawatt smile to light up any sta­dium. Yet, de­spite all the at­ten­tion and ac­co­lades, she re­mains a re­fresh­ingly downto- earth pres­ence, as grounded as she is gifted.

Run­ner’sworld caught up with her at her home track, Black­heath and Brom­ley Har­ri­ers AC.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN RUN­NING?

I was very ac­tive as a kid. I’d do div­ing, danc­ing, bal­let. At my pri­mary school, there was a new run­ning club. My friend said, ‘ Will you come to this new run­ning club with me?’ At first, I said, ‘ No, I don’t think run­ning is for me.’ But she said that if I came with her she’d buy me an ice cream, so that was it. Af­ter do­ing a few cross- coun­try races, I went to my lo­cal run­ning club, Black­heath and Brom­ley Har­ri­ers. I started with long jump and then I fell into sprint­ing, which was fab­u­lous. I’m a ‘go for it’ kind of per­son. Sprint­ing has that ag­gres­sion, that con­fi­dence. There’s no pac­ing it. When the gun goes, you have to give it your all. That re­ally res­onated with me.

ALONG­SIDE TRAIN­ING AS AN ELITE ATH­LETE, YOU STUD­IED FOR A DE­GREE IN HIS­TORY. WAS IT DIF­FI­CULT TO BAL­ANCE STUDY­ING WITH TRAIN­ING?

Def­i­nitely. I did my his­tory de­gree at King’s Col­lege Lon­don. Every­one knows it’s a rig­or­ous de­gree. And that’s why I wanted to go there – be­cause I knew I would get a re­ally good stan­dard of teach­ing. Study­ing for that along­side try­ing to qual­ify for the World Cham­pi­onships and the Olympic Games was hard. But I don’t think any­thing that’s worth hav­ing in life comes eas­ily. You have to ap­ply your­self.

WHAT WOULD YOU BE DO­ING IF YOU WEREN’T A RUN­NER?

Academia is some­thing I def­i­nitely would have loved to get into, but there are so many things that I en­joy. I like writ­ing, read­ing, con­ver­sa­tion. I might have gone into law, per­haps. But I chose run­ning and I’m happy with that de­ci­sion.

WHO IS YOUR RUN­NING HERO?

Allyson Felix [US sprinter]. She’s a liv­ing leg­end. She’s won ev­ery­thing that you can win. I think she’s the most dec­o­rated fe­male track and field ath­lete ever. And she does it all with such grace.

YOU WERE A KIT CAR­RIER ON ‘ SU­PER SATUR­DAY’ AT THE LON­DON OLYMPICS IN 2012. WHAT ARE YOUR MEM­O­RIES OF THAT?

It was an amaz­ing night. Any­one who was in the Olympic Sta­dium agrees that the at­mos­phere was in­com­pa­ra­ble. It’s very hard to de­scribe it in words. What mo­ti­vated me more than the per­for­mances was the way the

crowd re­acted to the ath­letes. Ob­vi­ously, win­ning gold in your home Olympics is the pin­na­cle of your ca­reer – it’s ev­ery ath­lete’s dream – but I think what was even more pow­er­ful was look­ing around and see­ing strangers cry­ing and hug­ging, just over­joyed to see Team GB be suc­cess­ful. That’s what stayed with me the most: the idea that if I’m good at what I do, it can bring that sense of joy to peo­ple watch­ing. ONE OF THE ATH­LETES WHO WON GOLD THAT NIGHT WAS JES­SICA EN­NIS- HILL, WHO WAS THE POSTER GIRL FOR LON­DON 2012. ARE YOU COM­FORT­ABLE WITH THE IDEA THAT YOU HAVE BE­COME THE POSTER GIRL OF BRI­TISH ATH­LET­ICS? It’s some­thing that I’m aware of. I’m com­fort­able with it be­cause it comes with the ter­ri­tory. It’s heart­warm­ing that some peo­ple think of me in that way, but I also think that the great thing about ath­let­ics is that you have so many dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties across dif­fer­ent events. That’s why I love it. One mo­ment you can see me run­ning the 100m, the next breath you have Laura Muir do­ing the 1500m, or Kat [John­son-thomp­son] com­pet­ing in seven events over two days [in the hep­tathlon]. There are so many bril­liant ath­letes and per­son­al­i­ties bring­ing dif­fer­ent things to Bri­tish track and field.

WHAT WERE YOUR EX­PEC­TA­TIONS GO­ING INTO THE EU­RO­PEAN CHAM­PI­ONSHIPS?

I went into them hop­ing I could win the events I was in. But you never know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. That’s why we all love track and field, I guess. You might be the favourite and the fastest one go­ing in, but you never quite know what’s go­ing to hap­pen. So win­ning three golds was my aim, and I’m very happy to have done that, but in terms of the times that I ran and win­ning with the re­lay team, that sur­passed my ex­pec­ta­tions.

HOW IM­POR­TANT IS THE RIGHT MEN­TAL­ITY TO SUC­CESS IN RUN­NING?

Sprint­ing is over in the blink of an eye. So if there’s any el­e­ment of self-doubt, if you don’t chan­nel that pos­i­tive en­ergy into your run­ning, you won’t do well. You have to believe in your­self, even if you are a bit ner­vous. It’s im­por­tant to men­tally pre­pare your­self in the hours lead­ing up to a race, so that by the time you step out onto the track, any doubt is out of your mind. My coach and my physio are bril­liant with this; they make sure I’m calm and re­laxed. I’m a bub­bly, ex­citable per­son, so if I want to do well and suc­ceed on the track, I just have to be re­laxed and happy.

AMID THE IN­CREASED EX­PEC­TA­TION AND AT­TEN­TION, HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR FEET ON THE GROUND?

I haven’t ac­tu­ally no­ticed a big change in my day-to-day life. My In­sta­gram fol­low­ers went up [fol­low­ing the Eu­ro­pean Cham­pi­onships], but that’s not real life, is it? I’m still train­ing as nor­mal; my friends are still laugh­ing at me when I trip over my own feet. Ev­ery­thing is very much the same. Life hasn’t changed. And that’s a good thing; it gives me the time and fo­cus to con­cen­trate on what makes me fast in the first place.

HOW DO YOU UN­WIND WHEN YOU ARE AWAY FROM THE TRACK?

I sleep! That might sound re­ally bor­ing, but sleep is a wel­come lux­ury. I also love to travel. When I get to do it on hol­i­day, I love to ex­plore dif­fer­ent cul­tures and cities. Hav­ing stud­ied his­tory, I love to go to places and think, ‘This event hap­pened here so many years ago’ or ‘ I’m stand­ing ex­actly where Louis Arm­strong once stood’.

DO YOU EVER GO FOR A JOG?

I never run longer than 400m. If you think about it, for me, [slower run­ning] can feel coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. I spend six days a week, 48 weeks a year, try­ing to make my feet turn over as quickly as pos­si­ble. To then go for a jog kind of un­does that; it’s the op­po­site of what I’m aim­ing for. So it’s not part of my train­ing pro­gramme. But when I get older and I move out of sprint­ing, it’s def­i­nitely some­thing I’ll do. Some­times I feel like I’m miss­ing

I’m an ex­citable per­son, so if I want to do well and suc­ceed on the track, I just have to be re­laxed and happy”

out. Every­one talks about how re­lax­ing [ long-dis­tance run­ning] is. Laura Weight­man and Laura Muir al­ways go on the most beau­ti­ful run­ning trails when they are in a new des­ti­na­tion. When they go to Ore­gon, they al­ways talk about Pre’s run­ning trail [named in hon­our of Steve Pre­fontaine]. And I’m like, ‘ Well, I guess I could walk it?’

HOW DO YOU RATE THE STATE OF BRI­TISH SPRINT­ING?

There’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment. That’s what we push for, that’s what we train for. But right now, I think Bri­tish sprint­ing is in great shape. We’ve got peo­ple com­ing through with such good men­tal­i­ties. Aside from per­for­mances, that’s al­ways the most im­por­tant thing. If you’re run­ning 9.7 sec­onds at 19, it can give the kind of men­tal­ity of, ‘This is me, I am the best’ and you might lose some of the hunger to train. I think that’s the thing that’s so spe­cial about Bri­tish sprint­ing right now: that fact that, not only are there lots of tal­ented run­ners, but also they’re all hum­ble and hun­gry for suc­cess.

IT ALSO SEEMS LIKE THERE’S A GREAT SENSE OF CA­MA­RADERIE IN THE RE­LAY TEAM. HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE THAT?

I think the team psy­chol­o­gist, Jenn Sav­age, de­serves a lot of credit. She has made us learn about each other and what makes each of us tick. There­fore, we know how to in­ter­act with each other bet­ter. For ex­am­ple, if I’m speak­ing to De­sirèe [Henry], I know that she likes clar­ity, whereas I’m the op­po­site. I’m happy to be told, ‘Just run there’. But if I was speak­ing to De­sirèe, I’d say, ‘ You’re go­ing to run this leg, it’s go­ing to be this amount of steps, this is the per­son who’ll be hand­ing over to you’. Nei­ther way is right or wrong. But when you have that un­der­stand­ing of your team­mates, it al­lows you to com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter. And win­ning re­lays is all about com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

WHAT’S YOUR POSTRUN TREAT?

It’s ac­tu­ally more like a post-sea­son treat. This year, my team have been re­ally strict with me. Ev­ery time I ran a PB, I’d be ask­ing, ‘Can I now have a cup­cake?’ and they’d say ‘No’. My post-sea­son treat will be ev­ery­thing I’ve craved, so that’s ribs, mac and cheese, cakes, ice cream. I’ve got a real crav­ing for choco­late but­tons right now. Ev­ery year, I’ll have dif­fer­ent crav­ings. Last year, it was for sweet potato fries with may­on­naise and I wasn’t al­lowed any; now it’s for choco­late but­tons.

SMILES AHEAD: DINA IS RE­LAXED ABOUT THE FACT SHE’S MAK­ING HIS­TORY

GOLDEN MO­MENT: WIN­NING THE 200M AT THIS YEAR’S EU­RO­PEAN CHAM­PI­ONSHIPS

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