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The new superstar of British athletics

• Posted in • By joesr45@hotmail.com

Kelly Holmes. Paula Radcliffe. Denise Lewis. Jessica Ennis-Hill. These are some of the most famous names in female British athletics. Now add to that 22-year-old sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, who over the course of the recent 2018 European Championships turned herself from a runner of obvious potential to one of the most frightening sprinters on the planet and one of the favourites for double gold at the 2020 Japan Olympics.

During the Championships in Berlin she became the first woman to win the treble of 100m, 200m and 4x100m European gold medals in 28 years. She is the first UK athlete to achieve such a feat. All of them were ran in world leading times as she broke the British record she herself had set in the 100m and blew away World Champion Dafne Schippers in the 200m – both times were the fastest by any woman this year.

On the track Team GB topped the medal table with 7 golds and there were other fantastic performances, such as Laura Muir winning the 1,500m and Zharnel Hughes winning golds in the 100m and 4x100m relay, the former being a Championship record at 9.95s. Nevertheless, it is Asher-Smith who has come out of it as the one everyone is looking at as the next face of British sprinting. You only have to listen to eight-time world champion and four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson, someone often difficult to please, showering her with complements. The American has tipped her for double glory in Tokyo, describing her as having the full package and stating that he has never seen a British sprinter be a global medal contender at such a young age.

When Johnson talks about the full package, he is referring to her mental, as well as physical, fortitude. And this is what makes Asher-Smith’s future so exciting. She is a driven and goal-focused athlete, which has helped her overcome the various injury problems she has had over the last couple of years after taking bronze as part of the women’s 4x100 relay quartet at Rio in 2016. To have gotten over those physical issues, and to have coped so easily with being the outright favourite for the 100m at the Europeans, says everything about Asher-Smith. Outrunning the current World Champion, Dafne Schippers, in the 200m has also provided her with further proof that she belongs amongst the elite. Athletes who produce personal bests at a Championships are mentally strong and Asher-Smith was able to do this not once but twice in a matter of days. There is a great desire for a new GB champion to come to the fore which has created additional focus and pressure – Asher-Smith has seemingly barely noticed it.

Many notable names within the sport have been analysing the technique of Asher-Smith to understand how someone at just 5ft 5 in and less than 60kg is able to run with so much power and speed. One is Toni Minichiello, the old coach of 2012 gold medallist Ennis-Hill. He has praised her floating and effortless action in which she stays compact and stable, head motionless but arms, hips and legs moving in perfect motion, gliding along the track in a style that enables her to make the most of her leg strength and power. Combine this with the kind of starts she demonstrated in Berlin and you can see why she is such a threat.

So how fast can she go? Naturally for a 22-year-old, she is still a work in progress and her programme will have been tailored to ensure she is at her peak for Tokyo. She is also still developing her strategy for not one but two events. Her time in Berlin of 10.85s is only just under 4 tenths shy of the World Record, ran by Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988. Asher-Smith has been compared to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m Champion, and should be targeting the Jamaican’s personal best of 10.70. Right now, she is right in amongst the world’s finest sprinters and if she can now consistently start hitting these sub-11s times, there’s no reason why she cannot become a World and Olympic Champion over the next two years, especially with her being gifted in two events.

And it is this multi-talent that has got some questioning whether she should focus purely on one event over the other. However, whilst her natural talents may lie in the 100m, it is far more competitive, with running both obviously doubling-up her chances of coming home with two golds around her neck. What’s more, her ability to hold that smooth technique into the final stages of the shorter event comes from running the longer, giving her what could be a crucial advantage. Confidence and form are everything in the biggest competitions and Asher-Smith will want to be on the track as much as possible leading up to and during both the World Championships next year and the Olympics in 2020.

It is a trait of British sports fans that we like to get a little carried away about our athletes and teams. Yet although there is still work to be done for Dina Asher-Smith if she is to truly dominate global sprinting, the talent and potential is obvious. The biggest names in the sport are singing her praises and most crucially of all, as the countdown to Tokyo begins, she has started delivering the big performances on the biggest of stages. The new superstar of British athletics has finally arrived.

Feeling inspired by Asher-Smith? Check out Sport Lived's athletics programmes in Australia here. 

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