Girl next door Dina prepares to become the queen of the world
Asher-smith is looking to rewrite the record books. Pippa Field talks to the people who know her best
Never before has a British woman won a world sprint title. Nor has a British woman won individual world medals in two events. No Briton – male or female – has left a World Athletics Championships with three medals.
Already the British and European sprint queen, Dina Asher-smith will be aiming to take her reign global in the next eight days in Doha, and the record books could be about to be rewritten.
Finish on the podium in either the 100 or 200metres, and the 23-year-old will become the first British woman to win a global sprint medal since Kathy Smallwood-cook’s bronze in 1983. She is this year’s Diamond League 100m champion and has beaten all her main 200m rivals competing in Qatar this season. She is also a vital cog in the Great Britain 4x100m women’s relay team which won silver two years ago.
Asher-smith deals in the extraordinary, and success brings reward: titles, records, awards, endorsements, photoshoots, a place on the “30 Under 30” list, an appearance at Paris Fashion Week.
And yet it is the ordinary aspects which also mark her out, the relatable girl next door, the individual who still trains at her local club with her long-term coach, who combined training with studying for a history degree at King’s College, London and who is just as happy to poke fun at herself on social media about her struggles to apply fake eyelashes as she is talk about a race.
“It sounds too cliched but Dina is exactly the same now as she was then. Dina has not changed in 15, 16-odd years. She’s always bubbly, smiley, polite. But we knew she was special from the start,” explains Mick Jones, head coach of the Bromley Bees Academy, where Asher-smith started to forge her athletics journey.
“I’ve never known Dina throw a hissy fit. The only times you don’t talk to Dina is before a big race when she focuses.”
There are tales of early running endeavours: as a toddler escaping the clutches of a family member and dashing straight into a pond or being incentivised with ice cream to attend her primary school’s running club.
Growing up in Bromley, south-east London, her plentiful energy reserves were also expelled playing the trumpet and euphonium, attending Brownies and trying her hand at sports such as dancing, board diving, swimming and hockey. But it was athletics that eventually took hold.
Asher-smith was among the first cohort to join the Bees Academy, set up as the wider 365 Athletics Academy by founders Jones, Paul Patten and Asher-smith’s longterm coach John Blackie to teach the basics of run, jump and throw to primary schoolchildren.
She dabbled in the odd long and high-jump competitions in her early teens after progressing to Blackheath and Bromley Harriers – the club are separate to the Bees but use the same track – and in 2008 was even coaxed into competing in a Kent League cross-country: “She just sat with the leaders and when it got to the end, just sprinted past,” recalls Jones.
But her focus was ultimately on the shorter distances, especially with sprint specialist Blackie having long earmarked her as one to watch. As well as unwavering family, he is undeniably one of the most important figures in her career. Writing in The Telegraph last week, Asher-smith spoke of her utmost trust for her coach.
Together they conquered the regional, national and junior circuits, Asher-smith becoming European junior champion for 200m in 2013 and world junior gold medallist in the 100m a year later.
In 2015, aged 19, she became the fastest British sprinter when she smashed the 100m record at the FBK Games in Holland, clocking 11.02sec, and bettering the record held by fellow Blackheath and Bromley-affiliated runner Montell Douglas. The two never trained together, but she was aware of Asher-smith through the normally reserved Blackie.
“It was around 2010-2011 and John came up to me at Lee Valley and said ‘you need to meet this amazing girl’. He was so excited in his own calm way,” said 2008 Olympic-sprinter turned bobsledder Douglas, 33. “Dina was up for an open meet and ran a ridiculous 300m time. She was just
‘She wants to win, she wants to fight, but in her own way. That’s why I respect her’
standing there, demure, looking at me. I knew of her, before she blew up, just because of what ridiculous times she was doing. There is no way she was not going to be a star.”
Douglas describes Blackie and Asher-smith’s partnership as “everything” but reserves special praise for her parents Winston and Julie.
The latter is heavily involved with Blackheath and Bromley Harriers, but Douglas dismissed any notion of pushy parenting, rather letting Asher-smith be her own person.
It was at Rio 2016, four years after being a volunteer kit carrier in London, that Asher-smith made her Olympic debut, winning 4x100m relay bronze and finishing fifth in the 200m, shortly after becoming European champion.
Even amid setbacks, notably a broken foot which required surgery in the same year of a home World Championships in 2017, Asher-smith drew on the positives after taking 4x100m silver and fourth in the 200m, stating the experience had “done more for me in the long term mentally”. The next season she became the first Briton to complete the 100m, 200m and 4x100m treble at a European Championships.
Those close to Asher-smith describe the sprinter as being able to balance her life in a way most athletes cannot. She recently arranged for her prize money from the British Championships to be donated to the Bees Academy, while speak to any of the young athletes who get to train at the same track as a world-class athlete and the most commonly used words are “inspirational” and “motivational”.
Douglas is equally effusive of Asher-smith’s ability to embrace being a role model and maintain focus. “The real Dina is as sweet as she comes across, but she’s definitely got that competitive side in her,” she adds. “She wants to win, she wants to fight, but in her own way. That’s why I have huge respect for her. There’s no drama.
“I love that she’s stayed at the club. She is showing that you can stay home-grown, stay with your family and friends around you and still be this sporting icon that people are inspired by.”
Success or failure in Doha, one thing that is certain. Dina will not stop being Dina.