Tokyo 2020 Ones to Watch: Dina Asher-Smith

From an early age, Dina Asher-Smith was destined for global stardom.

She was only 13 when she ran a world best time for the 300m, laying down a marker for the domination she subsequently enjoyed throughout her junior career on the track.

The Blackheath and Bromley Harriers athlete, coached by John Blackie, went on to win the English Schools Championships 200m title at under-15, under-17 and under-20 level. 

Her first international title in the 200m arrived at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games while she also won the European junior 200m title in 2013 and world junior 100m title in 2014.

Since then, Asher-Smith’s profile has skyrocketed as she demonstrated her ability time and again on the senior international stage with world, European, Commonwealth and Olympic medal success.

The fastest British woman in history now stands on the cusp of her second consecutive Olympics with a chance to cement her status as a sprinting icon - and only a fool would bet against her.

Even a global pandemic cannot stop Asher-Smith from realising her greatness. In fact, her bid for double sprint gold in Tokyo seems to have actually benefited from the postponement.

“I’m much, much stronger physically than I was in 2019,” said the world 200m champion. “I’ve just had so much more time work, I’m so much more technically proficient.

“I’ve been doing things my coach has been hoping I could do for many years - now I can do them. I’m hoping I can do them straight off the bat.

“It’s only in the past few weeks, maybe the past three weeks, that I’ve stopped doing more than 300 ab exercises in a session. I’m so happy to start racing, because it’s hard when I’m not.”

As if to hammer home her marginal gains, Asher-Smith stormed to a superb 100m victory over American rival Sha'Carri Richardson at a Dimond League meeting in Gateshead last month.

Her time of 11.35 seconds saw the British sensation finish 0.11 seconds clear of Richardson, the fastest woman this year, while Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser Price was also left in her wake.

Not that Asher-Smith is about to get ahead of herself.

"The only thing that can indicate Tokyo is the Olympic final itself,” she said in the aftermath.

"I feel really good. Conditions were far from ideal for sprinting but the most important thing is to come away with a good result and a win and I was very happy to do that.”

Asher-Smith’s rise to the top of the sprinting food chain has been accelerated over the past few years as her promise as a youngster began to bear fruit on the senior international stage.

She rewrote British sprint history in 2015 by breaking the 100m record in London before treating Kathy Cook’s 31-year-old 200m record to the same fate at the World Championships.

Two major medals followed in 2016 as she won 200m gold at the European Championships and 4x100m relay bronze for Team GB on her Olympic Games debut in Rio.

A broken foot provided a brief bump in the road in 2017 but, against the odds, Asher-Smith fought her way back to fitness to place fourth in the World Championships that summer.

But it was the following summer which catapulted Asher-Smith into the limelight after she won triple gold at the European Championships in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.

Ending the season as the fastest woman in the world in the 200m and joint fastest in the 100m, she added two more British records to her rapidly expanding CV.

And she turned her European domination into global success in 2019, becoming the first British woman to win a major global sprint title in the 200m at the World Championships.

Silver medals in the 100m and the 4x100m relay also etched her name into the record books again as the first Briton to win three medals at a major global athletics event.

Yet as a fiercely private person, Asher-Smith also had to quickly adjust to her newfound sprint fame - something that lockdown allowed her to come to terms with.

“The best thing about the last year for me was a change of pace,” she said. “Even though everything in my life was progressive, it was changing quickly every single year. 

“It was nice to step back and take a breath, because it was a lot. It was a change, people in the sport who’ve known me since I was a teenager now saw me on TV. 

“It’s fun for people to see, but I’m not used to this. It was nice to get used to that, understand what it means and the extra time to get stronger.”

Stronger, fitter and more mentally tough than ever before, and with an undeniable natural ability, Asher-Smith is all set to be a force to be reckoned with on the track at Tokyo 2020.