‘Hum­ble’ coach will keep Asher-smith’s feet firmly on ground

Heights of Doha will feel like a dream when world cham­pion re­sumes her train­ing, says Ben Bloom

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | World Athletics Championsh­ips -

In a few weeks’ time, Dina Asher-smith will re­turn to the same Nor­man Park track in south-east Lon­don with which she is so fa­mil­iar for her first win­ter train­ing ses­sion. The Black­heath and Brom­ley Har­ri­ers base of­fers lit­tle scope for glam­our, ir­re­spec­tive of global ti­tles or how high up in the bet­ting some­one might be for any end-of-year awards.

So, as ever, Asher-smith will go through her usual warm-up watched by hordes of chil­dren har­ing along the track within touch­ing dis­tance of their idol.

There will be smiles, pic­tures and hearty con­grat­u­la­tions. And then it will be like the past week never hap­pened. Busi­ness as usual for the new world 200me­tres cham­pion and her long-time coach John Blackie in a world where ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent, but noth­ing changes.

Theirs is a part­ner­ship that be­gan when Asher-smith was nine years old and has en­dured ever since – through na­tional age-group ti­tles, world ju­nior ti­tles, Euro­pean ti­tles and now a first world ti­tle in Doha. Just one ac­co­lade awaits – that of Olympic gold – and both ath­lete and coach would dis­miss any sug­ges­tion of bask­ing in re­cent glo­ries.

Nor­man Park has been Blackie’s stamp­ing ground for decades, hav­ing fo­cused on ath­let­ics coach­ing 20 years ago af­ter see­ing his daugh­ters’ pas­sion for the sport. It is a fit­ting place for a man who es­chews pub­lic­ity and de­flects at­ten­tion wher­ever pos­si­ble.

In his eyes, this suc­cess is not about him. But when asked who she would ded­i­cate her world ti­tle to, Asher-smith had no hes­i­ta­tion.

“My par­ents would be frus­trated that I didn’t say them, but it def­i­nitely has to be my coach John,” she said.

“He’s al­ways be­lieved in me and been care­ful in my pro­gres­sion, hold­ing me back so I could get stronger and cope with my speed when I needed. This medal is ded­i­cated to his pa­tience, in­tel­li­gence and wis­dom.”

While not unique, their re­la­tion­ship is un­usual within a British Ath­let­ics set-up geared to­wards large, high-pro­file sprint­ing groups. Most of her sprint­ing peers are based at the gov­ern­ing body’s mul­ti­mil­lion-pound fa­cil­ity in Lough­bor­ough or US bases.

Yet she has re­mained fiercely loyal to the man who first spot­ted her when she joined the Bees Academy he had helped es­tab­lish to en­cour­age pri­mary school­child­ren into ath­let­ics, ig­nor­ing any ex­ter­nal in­flu­ence the likes of Nike would have ex­erted when she signed her first con­tract with the sportswear gi­ant at the end of 2012.

When it be­came ap­par­ent that Asher-smith was too quick for the rest of the fe­male sprint­ers in her train­ing group, Blackie told her to chase down the men in­stead. Why look else­where? Noth­ing changes.

In The Daily Tele­graph last month, Asher-smith wrote: “My coach John is like fam­ily to me. Lots of peo­ple won­der about him, as he is not the sort of per­son to seek out the lime­light.

“He is happy within him­self and finds joy in sup­port­ing oth­ers and help­ing them to ful­fil their po­ten­tial. He is a hum­ble and kind per­son, and I love him to bits.”

The word “hum­ble” popped up in the af­ter­math of Asher-smith’s gold medal-win­ning ex­ploits in Doha. How does a per­son who has made his­tory as the first British woman ever to win a global sprint ti­tle stay grounded?

“Be­ing an ath­lete is very hum­bling any­way,” she said. “I train six days a week and I am still go­ing to push my­self to the limit. It’s very unglam­orous when you have got lac­tic and you’re ly­ing on the floor. Ul­ti­mately, you’re only ever as good as your last per­for­mance.

“If you ever lose sight of that, then that’s the last thing you’re ever go­ing to do, so I have tried hard to stay grounded.

“Ath­let­ics is a very un­pre­dictable, and at times un­for­giv­ing, sport. I could run the same time next year and fin­ished fifth. So I have to keep my feet firmly on the ground and keep work­ing hard.”

Next year will be tougher. Shau­nae Miller-uibo, Shelly-ann Fraser-pryce, Marie-josee Ta Lou, Dafne Schip­pers, Elaine Thomp­son and Bless­ing Ok­ag­bare were all miss­ing from the world 200m fi­nal and will ex­pect to be on the start line at the 2020 Olympics. Ash­ersmith is well aware.

“We’ve still got some things to work on,” she said af­ter her tri­umph. For that, she will re­turn to fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings with the same coach and the same group, on the same old track she has al­ways known. Ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent, but noth­ing changes.

Ded­i­ca­tion: Dina Asher-smith paid tribute to her coach John Blackie

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.