Dina Asher-Smith in the 4x100m Relay at the 2013 IAAF World Championships (© Getty Images)
Dina Asher-Smith felt star-struck when she came face-to-face with Usain Bolt at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow earlier this year, but Britain's European junior 200m champion more than held her own in the Russian capital.
In fact, by getting a bronze medal as part of the British 4x100m relay team, the teenager went one step closer on her journey to etching her name alongside her idols in the echelons of world-class athletics, with success at the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships her next target.
Although over the moon with her 2013 successes, little has changed in the day-to-day life of the teenager from the London commuter town of Orpington, in the south of England, who is currently balancing training for Eugene with studying for her end-of-school exams next summer.
“I’m definitely just a normal 17-year-old girl. I still have to hand my homework in on time at school. I still look at Usain Bolt and think ‘wow’ and I look up to Christine Ohuruogu, so the experience in Moscow has not changed me in that way,” said Asher-Smith, who has remained well-grounded despite rubbing shoulders with the stars of the sport in Moscow.
If her 2013 season is anything to go by, it might not be too many years before young athletes are idolising Asher-Smith.
The year started with an impressive victory at the Loughborough International, with her personal best time of 23.14 eventually placing her sixth in the 2013 world junior list for the event.
On the back of some more promising early season performances, Asher-Smith went to the European Junior Championships in Rieti as the favourite and duly delivered the goods. For good measure, she was part of the winning 4x100m relay team which set a British junior record.
Wet weather whirlwind
“Before the start it was pouring with rain. This took my mind off any expectation that was on me, as I all I could think about was splashing in the rain. I just thought to myself, ‘we run in the rain in England all the time’ and went and ran as fast as I could,” she joked.
In the wake of her Rieti success, she was selected to be part of the Great Britain relay squad going to Moscow but she was simply delighted to have been picked for her first senior championships. She had no real expectations that she was to become the youngest ever World Championships female relay medallist at just 17 years and 247 days.
“It was a whirlwind. I had no pressure on me and I saw it as an amazing opportunity to gain invaluable experience, which will help me as I go forward. I really tried to watch the world’s best to see how they conduct themselves in such an environment.
“In Moscow, we stayed in a hotel with the Americans, but I just kept reminding myself that these big names are just normal people,” said Asher-Smith.
“When I first walked out on to the track, I got a bit caught up in the moment, but just told myself to smile and concentrate on what I was doing.
“Nobody really expected anything from our team, so we were kind of on a mission to prove ourselves,” she added, after Great Britain had produced their best women’s 4x100m performance for almost three decades, the last set of medals at a global championship being bronze at the 1984 Olympic Games.
“We have some talented girls coming through, such as Jodie Williams, Bianca Williams, Sophie Papps and Desiree Henry, to just pick out a few, so I definitely think the future is looking bright.”
Asher-Smith has plenty to look forward to in 2014 and has not ruled out the possibility of doing the IAAF World Indoor Championships, the inaugural IAAF World Relays and the IAAF World Junior Championships, although her involvement in the first two will have to be signed off by her teachers, especially as she is being predicted to get good results in her summer school exams and have her pick of top universities to attend.
Relishing the World Relays
However, after being part of a British relay success story in Moscow, Asher-Smith is keen to be in The Bahamas next March for the IAAF World Relays.
“I think it is a really good idea and I hope it will raise the profile of relay runners. Athletes will take it more seriously now there is a designated championship for it, which will make relay performances more meaningful. If I don’t get to do it next year, I definitely want to be part of it in the future”
Asher-Smith’s rise has not come about overnight, but rather marks a steady progression since she began in the sport under the watchful eye of her coach John Blackie as an eight-year-old.
In those days, the bubbly youngster was enjoying success at a range of events, including cross country, but she credits Blackie for realising that her best event would be the sprints and encouraging her to focus on this area. Her multi-faceted background has also played a part in her current success.
“I used to do loads of different sports such as dancing, hockey and diving, as well as jumping and other running events in athletics. This gave me the stamina and plyometric skills that I have today and also taught me body awareness.
“I think we should encourage more young athletes to try different events to ensure they find their best event before specialising,” commented Asher-Smith.
However, for the moment Asher-Smith has settled on the 200m as her speciality and at the 2014 World Junior Championships it could be one of the most eye-catching events of the whole six-day programme.
In addition to Asher-Smith, two other athletes who have proved their championship credentials are Sweden’s Irene Ekelund and Ecuador’s Angela Tenorio, who actually went faster than Asher-Smith last summer when they took the gold and silver medals at the IAAF World Youth Championships in 22.92 and 23.13 respectively.
It is also highly likely that challengers to this trio will emerge from the USA and the Caribbean countries, but Asher-Smith certainly has the talent to become Britain’s third World junior champion in what the local US crowd in Eugene will call the furlong.
Emily Moss for the IAAF