Earlier this season, Dina Asher-Smith’s body was willing but her mind was elsewhere. Training had gone well and she was determined to peak at the World Championships. The death of her grandmother due to illness, though, caused so much upset that she was unable to focus properly on her races during the build-up.
This changed in Eugene, though, as she followed her British record and fourth place in the 100m final with a bronze medal on Thursday [July 21] in an incredible 200m won by Shericka Jackson of Jamaica in the second fastest time in history of 21.45.
Asher-Smith has been reluctant to talk about her family bereavement because it was simply too upsetting and it would make her cry. But after making the podium in a sizzlingly fast 200m final, she finally felt at ease talking about it.
“I lost my grandma due to an awful illness just before Doha Diamond League and we had the funeral a week before the trials,” she said. “My brain wasn’t in the room. It felt like I was just watching myself do stuff. I knew I was in great shape but the psychological element, which is so important, is something I knew I needed to work on during the season.”
She added: “My grandma would have loved watching me in the final tonight. She would want me to be focused and to work as hard as I can. I know that I’ve done her proud.”
Her grandmother, Sislyn, was a nurse with the NHS and was originally from Trinidad on her mother’s side of the family. She died in her early 90s and Asher-Smith said: “She was very cheeky and bubbly, just like me. We look similar and our birthdays are two days apart. My whole life we’ve had a joint birthday.
“We are very alike. It’s been very difficult. She was an incredible woman and my whole family wouldn’t be where they are without her hard work, effort and sacrifices.
“She’s been giving me great signs all season, though. Some things have happened all season and I’ve been saying ‘thank you, grandma’.”
Asher-Smith paid credit to the British Athletics team psychologist during the championships. “The ‘team psych’ has done an amazing job to get my brain and body on the same page. For most of the season I had to take myself from just being so profoundly sad to being okay to race. But being ‘okay to race’ at this level isn’t good enough. You need to be excellent.”
After fourth place in the 100m in Eugene and then bronze in the 200m, Asher-Smith will now go into the sprint relay this weekend looking for another medal. Then she tackles the 100m and relay for England at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham followed by the European Championships in Munich.
“Diamond Leagues are a lot of fun but no one remembers who won there,” she said bluntly, adding that she uses them to practise different elements of her race.
“I’ll always be a championship girl.”