The Scottish Mail on Sunday


Life in the fast lane holds no fears for Britain’s golden girl as she chases sprint double in Tokyo

- From Riath Al-Samarrai IN TOKYO

ALL told, she’ll be going hard for somewhere around 100 seconds. A couple less across her six races and she’ll have a medal, possibly two. A couple more and it’s likely she won’t. These are the margins for Dina Asher-Smith now. They’re the blurry difference­s that will decide if it happens for her or it doesn’t; if these were the Olympics where she became Britain’s first female sprint medallist since 1960, or if they weren’t.

So here we are, five days shy of the first gun of her Olympic 100m mission, nine short of the last of her push to win the 200m.

There are stronger medal shots in the wider Team GB cohort in Tokyo, such as Adam Peaty, and there are repeat champions like Jason and Laura Kenny, Jade Jones, Helen Glover and Charlotte Dujardin. But it’s awfully hard to imagine any of them will operate under the same level of attention in Britain as Asher-Smith when she contests the sprints in the foremost sport of the Olympics.

For that reason, it was interestin­g to chat with her this week, and particular­ly when the 200m world champion referenced several exchanges she had at Heathrow as she went to board her British Airways flight on Tuesday. A number of airline staff took to asking if she was nervous, and the responses were consistent.

‘I was like, “No, what is there to be nervous about?”’ she explained. ‘Obviously this is on a different scale but I line up for a race and I’ve done that since I was eight years old and I’m very, very good at it.’

A later comment: ‘It’s not daunting, simply because I’m inside my own body. I know what I can do.

‘Everybody has their prediction­s written down on paper, but we don’t run on paper, we run on the track. It’s the championsh­ips that really matter.’

It’s usual at these points to attempt to spy for the clues, those little tells of how an athlete is riding the head-squeezing days before the contests that define them. But Asher-Smith isn’t known for giving much away. She isn’t one who media folk would generally consider prone to a bombastic comment on sporting matters — she is quite cautious, guarded even.

Which is fine, of course, but there has also been a slight shift in tone this week. Arrogant? Not at all. More outwardly confident in her words? Abundantly. If there are concerns about the ‘grumpy hamstring’ that forced her to withdraw from her final warm-up race in Gateshead, and indeed about the world rankings, then she is hiding them well.

Whether they are tricks of the mind is open to conjecture. At the very least she might be permitted some doubts in regard to the latter, given raw comparison­s of timings between Asher-Smith and her rivals do not make for favourable reading.

In the 100m standings this year she ranks joint ninth with a season’s best of 10.91sec — far below the 10.63sec best belonging to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce — and she occupies the same rung in the 200m with her 2021 mark of 22.06sec, albeit on the back of only two races.

Adjusting for her pedigree at running the three rounds of a championsh­ip, and noting she is unbeaten in 12 races this year, including victory in a showdown with Fraser-Pryce and the banned phenomenon Sha’Carri Richardson, bookies are making her third favourite for the 100m and fourth for the 200m.

Closer observers may switch that order to favour the longer distance, but it nonetheles­s ought to temper expectatio­ns of gold, which is a prize in reach of her talent but would amount to an upset. In such stacked fields, one individual medal outside of the relays would be a fine result, two exceptiona­l.

If there has been assistance, it is via Richardson’s sad ban for marijuana use in the wake of her mother’s death, and the underwhelm­ing 200m performanc­es in 2021 of the previously dominant Shaunae Miller-Uibo. That is balanced by the emergence of the Harvard graduate Gabrielle Thomas (her 21.61sec personal best is almost three tenths better than that of AsherSmith) and the resurgence of Elaine Thompson-Herah, the reigning Olympic champion of the 100m and 200m.

Both distances will be brutal for Asher-Smith who will not enjoy the benefits she had at the 2019 World championsh­ips when she took 200m gold against a weakened field, albeit in a blistering time. Anything she gets here will be harder won.

Asher-Smith said: ‘It’s all well and good that you can run fast throughout the year — fantastic, congratula­tions. But it’s obviously the big moments that matter. That’s one of my favourite places to perform.’

Fair enough, but consider her howl of delight at the British Championsh­ips last month when a clock malfunctio­n briefly upgraded her personal best from 10.83sec to 10.71sec. It was possible when she then screamed upon correction of the error to imagine she craved at least one statement time prior to landing in Japan. Without it, it is over to her championsh­ip nous to complete the job. There won’t be a lot in it either way.

Cyclist Richard Carapaz won Ecuador’s secondever Olympic gold. Race walker Jefferson Perez won the first in 1996.

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 ??  ?? HIGH PRESSURE: Asher-Smith faces a fight to win medals in Tokyo
HIGH PRESSURE: Asher-Smith faces a fight to win medals in Tokyo

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