Dina Asher-Smith in the 200m at the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature London, UK

For Asher-Smith, teenage dream to become reality in London

For Dina Asher-Smith, the IAAF World Championships London 2017 in the London Stadium was always going to be a poignant affair.

When the arena in the north-east of her home city was the centre piece of the 2012 Olympic Games, the future global sprint finalist and British record breaker from south-east London was a volunteer kit carrier.

Indeed, the 16-year-old Asher-Smith carried the belongings of one of the stars of the Games on the night that entered British sporting history as Super Saturday.

In the space of 45 unforgettable minutes, a trio of athletes representing the host nation all won gold medals: Jessica Ennis-Hill in the heptathlon, Greg Rutherford in the long jump and Mo Farah in the 10,000m.

In fact, it was Asher-Smith who transported Ennis-Hill’s gear from the call room out into the cauldron of the Olympic Stadium before the Briton clinched the heptathlon title with a winning run in the 800m.

En route, the teenager received a curious look from Ennis-Hill’s GB team-mate Katarina Johnson-Thompson, as if to say “What on earth are you doing here?”

Two weeks earlier, the pair had been members of the British squad at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona - Asher-Smith finishing seventh in the 200m final, Johnson-Thompson taking gold in the long jump.

“I was only 16 at the time and wasn’t looking to make the team, “Asher-Smith recalled, speaking at the British team’s eve of championship press conference last Thursday (3).  “So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll volunteer and do something there.

“I was fortunate enough to be given that Saturday, which obviously I didn’t know was going to end up being Super Saturday. I remember being kind of disappointed that I wasn’t going to see Usain Bolt in the men’s 100m final but when I got there and witnessed probably one of the greatest nights in British athletics history I felt incredibly lucky.

“To describe the atmosphere that night to somebody who wasn’t there is incredibly difficult. I think the closest word to that is probably ‘euphoric.’

“With that memory, being able to have the opportunity to perform in the same stadium, the same city in the World Championships is going to be so unforgettable for me. It’s going to be so special.

“I’m so grateful to be in this position.”

The young woman from Bromley - the south-east London suburb that was also home to HG Wells, the celebrated author who penned The War of the Worlds - has good reason to be grateful that she has the opportunity to take on the rest of the planet in her home city.

Back from the brink

On 17 February Asher-Smith’s world looked to have fallen apart. While attempting to complete a final repetition in a bench-jumping exercise in the gym when she fell awkwardly and fractured a bone in her right foot.

At that stage, the IAAF World Championships looked a remote prospect for the woman who finished fifth in the 200m final in Beijing in 2015, breaking Kathy Cook’s 31-year-old British record with a time of 22.07, and who occupied the same place at the Olympic Games in Rio last year.

As recently as the beginning of June, Asher-Smith was still only able to run on grass. At the British Championships on 1 July, she ran 11.41 in the 100m and 11.53 for sixth place in the final – half a second down on the British record of 10.99 she set on the London Stadium track at the 2015 Anniversary Games IAAF Diamond League meeting.

Undaunted, she put herself on the line in the 2017 edition of the IAAF London Diamond League eight days later, finishing sixth in her 100m heat in 11.51. She then departed for Italy, clocking 11.41 for 100m in Lignano and 23.15 in her first 200m of the year in Padova on 16 July.

Five days after that, Asher-Smith moved on to the IAAF Diamond league meeting in Monaco and finished third in 22.89, behind Marie-Josee Ta Lou (22.25) and Kyra Jefferson (22.42). 

Given that the Ivorian Ta Lou is one of five women in the championships who have run 22.16 or quicker this year, the history graduate from King’s College London seems unlikely to match her Beijing and Rio performances.

Still, considering her accident in February, she has worked wonders under her Blackheath and Bromley club coach John Blackie to make it to London. And, as well as the 200m, she has the 4x100m relay, in which she won bronze medals in Beijing in 2015 and Rio in 2016.

“There were times earlier in the year when I wasn’t quite sure if I was going to be here,” Asher Smith – Geraldina Asher-Smith, to use her full name – confessed. “I’m really happy with how I’ve recovered from the interesting injury that happened early this year.

“I was really happy to run 22.8 in Monaco. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Hopefully, I can go faster, because when I was out there I suffered from a bit of food poisoning, which made it an interesting race for me.

“It’s all been positive for me. I’m really excited to get out there on the track here. Hopefully, I can do everyone proud.”

Simon Turnbull for the IAAF