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

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - World Athletics Championsh­ips -

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.

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