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