Two weeks after winning the AIPS Sport Media Award for Best Column, Dina Asher-Smith is still ecstatic while remembering the castle in Vigevano and the moments before the announcement.

The British sprinter, who is currently preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, is used to receiving trophies, but this one is the first one she gets for writing.

“I love winning sports awards, but this means a lot because is something I’ve used my brain for,” she proudly says.

Her piece, a very touching column in which she addressed racism during the Black Lives Matter movement, painted a perfect picture of athletes’ involvement in social issues and was a deep reflection of her own story, too. The column published in The Telegraph Women’s Sport Monthly had an immediate repercussion. But Dina couldn’t have imagined that it will become the best column of the year and that people would call her crying to congratulate her.

“My coach told me: See? I told you it was a good one!” she says. Dina, 25, became a world champion in the 200m (21.88 seconds) in 2019 and has also won the silver medal in the 100m and 4×100 m relay.

Was this your first gold medal as a writer? When did you start writing?

Definitely! I’ve been technically writing for a long time: I did a History degree at the university so I’m quite a confident essay writer; I had to work hard to get good marks. But yes it’s my first time ever winning something as a writer and I was so stunned. I didn’t even know there were big prizes like this.

Are you happy with how women and women’s sport are covered?

I took the column at The Telegraph Women Sport mainly because it was the only newspaper in the UK working really hard to elevate women’s issues, particularly in sport, using their platform. It wasn’t reporting just what women do in sport, but also periods, RED-S, osteoporosis, undereating, body image issues, which affect everybody but are more pronounced in the female space.

In your column you felt it was time to speak personally about racism.

Honestly, it was very difficult to write about something very, very personal. It was last summer, just one month after the murder of George Floyd: it was a very difficult moment, particularly for a lot of black people around the globe. We have the pandemic and all the stresses everybody was feeling. And then it was kind of seeing something play out on camera. Particularly in America, lots of people are aware that happens but there’s not always a camera to record it so when there’s not a camera it’s pretty easy for people to disqualify it, but when there was a camera and the whole world can see it, it’s on the radio, the TV the newspapers, and every single social network, it becomes something that, in that time, particularly as a black person you start reflecting on your own life, your own experiences.

How did you come to that consciousness?

I just thought I’ve got the opportunity with the column that I have. I usually spend time writing about issues of women in sports or young sports people or elevating some of the upcoming stars and then I thought to use my column to speak about this. This is my column space and that’s the way I wanted to use it at that particular moment in time.

How proud are you of having a voice, an opinion, that transcends sports?

It’s something I’m getting used to, but I am really proud. I’m a sports person, I’m in sports, that’s where I am. When I was younger all I wanted to achieve when I grew up was going to the Olympics, because I saw it on TV. I wanted to go to the Olympics, I did not care how I got there: swimming, gymnastics, anything… Even on a sporting front, it’s amazing how working hard at that dream has put me in this position because I didn’t really ever envisage that I’d be one of the fastest women in the world, which is crazy, but it’s great to keep going. But also an unintended consequence is your voice is carrying weight and I think this needs to be treated with a lot of respect because the things you say and stand for have more meaning. You have this chance to affect change and make the next steps for the next generation easier and better. Everybody in the world has the right to use their platform in whatever way they want, but for me I do feel somewhat responsible to use it to make other people’s lives a bit easier.

You have visited schools and talk to kids, especially girls. How moved are you after these talks?

Not in the pandemic, of course (she laughs). I love talking to kids, they’re so funny, and you get a whole range of are you faster than a bus, are you faster than Usain Bolt, can you run faster than a cheetah, than a lion? And then with kids just being very upfront and forthcoming, I actually find talking to children as a good barometer of how we are as a society because they just truthfully and honestly replay what their opinions are of stuff. I remember somebody once said to me, ‘I didn’t know women did sport’ so in my head I was thinking, ‘we need to do a better job of showing that’. And then some other times the girls come up to me with smaller anxieties about the way they look and their weight, then you’re like, ‘I can obviously do my best to talk to them’ but you also think, ‘society needs to be doing better at that as well’

How do you feel when running a race? Do you feel anything or just put your mind in blank and how would you compare this with writing a column?

When I’m racing I just think about what my coach wants me to focus on and then I just focus on chilling out and having fun. I absolutely love racing, I’m just in love with competition, the adrenaline rush, the roar of the crowd – when there are crowds. I love the tension at the start line so I normally have to calm myself down because I’m super excited. When I’m writing a column there’s a difference: there’s no 80,000 people in the crowd around you, but I think I have to find myself in the right state of mind to do it: I enjoy writing on stuff I’m passionate about. When you’re passionate about something it’s often far more natural and it flows much better: I kind of just try to write down everything that I think and feel and play with the sentences, how they sound, how they flow and all of the linguistic things. And I just kind of try and allocate some time like a long time because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I recently wrote a different column for The Players Tribune and that took me about three days from start to finish. It’s something that is very different to running. Very, very different.

In one of your columns you mention playing with family as something that instilled the competitiveness in you. They did not let you win, you had to earn it. Do you think that you are earning the right to speak up column after column?

I think everybody has the right to use their voice to speak up however they like. So, I don’t think I’m earning the right in each column, because I already have that right, you know what I mean? We all got it. But, I like it. I really like writing. I did a humanities degree and I think that language is a really fun way of playing with meaning. You can translate so many different ideas with language. It’s a really powerful tool that you can use when you want to get a point across. You can also use visuals, you can use audio, but I like writing right now. It’s fun for me

If you could meet just one person in the world that you admire and would like to listen to and have a chat with, who would that person be?

I think it would be Serena Williams. I really admire her. I just think she’s really amazing, she’s so brilliantly talented, she’s one of the greatest tennis players ever. And I think it would be just great to say ‘Well done!’ in person, I don’t think it would be about asking questions, obviously I would. But, particularly as an up-and-coming young black sportswoman, I would like to thank her because she’s been an icon for so many of us and has been so amazing for her whole career that I just would love to tell her this.

After the pandemic year after Tokyo 2020 there will be World Championships, Paris 2024: back-to-back to major Championships.

It’s so good. We are training really hard. My coach has been really, really testing us but it’s really exciting. I think this is an era that track and field has never seen before, such a condensed global calendar, which obviously means as an athlete you have to tackle it intelligently and that’s why my team and I used last year as a building block foundation year. But it’s such a great opportunity for everybody in the sport of athletics to really catch a whole new fan base and for new stars to be born, so I’m really happy to be able to be competing in it, as the years go on.

Source: Maria Pia Beltran| AIPS Media