A number of well-wishers have asked Dina Asher-Smith in recent days if she is nervous or scared going into the Olympic Games. She looks at them as if they are slightly mad and explains that she is not nervous or scared at all.
“What’s scary?” she says. “What is there to be nervous about? I will line up for a race [in Tokyo] and I’ve done that since I was eight years old and I’m very, very good at it.
“Obviously the stakes change, the mechanics change, the precision of it changes, but fundamentally this is something I do week in week out. There’s absolutely nothing to be scared of.
“I love a show. I love a stage. I love putting together a great performance when it matters, when the lights are really on. That’s just part of me. I love championships.
“My coach always tells me to quell my excitement throughout the season until the championships then let it loose.”
Since winning the world 200m title in Doha two years ago, the 25-year-old wants to add Olympic medals to her growing résumé. She cannot wait either.
“I’m so, so unbelievably excited to be here,” she says. “I feel like I’ve been capping my excitement for over a year because it’s been postponed and pushed back. It feels like it’s been a long time in the waiting.
“I’m really excited to go and put a really good series of runs together. The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of our sport. It’s what so many of us have dreamed of since we were babies.”
Asher-Smith suffered a pre-Games injury scare when her hamstring tightened up on the eve of the Diamond League in Gateshead this month. She pulled out as a precautionary measure and now says: “As a team we made the decision that we’d been working toward Tokyo for a very long time so decided not to take any risks and to just get back into some hard training.
“You’ve got to listen to your body. The hamstring was a bit grumpy but it’s now good.”
Asher-Smith was speaking to the British press via video call during the afternoon in Tokyo and very early morning in the UK. In a wide-ranging interview, she tackled a number of topics such as Covid testing and the worry of being ‘pinged’.
“We don’t see anyone who is not in our bubble,” she says, matter of fact. “We are tested every single day. We’ve got an app to do a health questionnaire every day and thermometers for our temperature. Some people are tested twice a day.
“As for avoiding people, there’s been no people for us to avoid. I feel very safe in this camp. People are going above and beyond to make sure that we’re safe. This is the only time I’ve had my mask off today.”
Asher-Smith faces tough fields in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. What does she make of her rivals’ performances this summer? “They are not daunting nor a motivator, simply because I’m inside my own body. I know what I can do.
“To me it’s immaterial what people run around you because a championship is a completely different ball game. The reason why we all love championships is because you honestly don’t know what’s going to happen. Everybody has their predictions written down on paper, but we don’t run on paper, we run on the track.
“People always run fast – that’s the sport. But it’s the championships that really matter.”
On rival who won’t be in Tokyo, though, is Sha’Carri Richardson, who will miss the Games after testing positive for cannabis. Asher-Smith is sympathetic, saying: “I feel sorry for her because her mother passed away,” before adding: “Rules are rules but the girl was grieving and so my heart goes out to her in that situation. Nobody wants to lose a parent. It’s awful.”
Naturally, Asher-Smith was glued to the England football team at the European Championships and on their performances on and off the pitch, she says: “I think what Marcus [Rashford] and all other players have been doing is fantastic. It made me so proud to watch them and see how they conducted themselves.
“They did fantastically throughout the Euros and England surpassed all our expectations in the nicest way. They are a credit to our nation and are showing a really good sense of moral leadership for our nation.
“I think as sportspeople we are proud and as a Brit – as a black Brit – I was really proud through the Euros. I thought they represented our nation and our community incredibly well.”
Asher-Smith also had strong words to say about the concept of protesting at the Olympics. “I see protesting and expressing yourself as a fundamental human right,” she says. “If you were to penalise someone for standing up against racial inequality, how on earth would that go? How on earth are you going to enforce that? Would you revoke someone’s medal for saying racism is wrong?”
Asher-Smith is interested in being more involved in social activism. But for now she is focused on delivering on the track in Tokyo.
No one can predict the podium places but she is confident that her British records of 10.83 for 100m and 21.88 for 200m will fall.
Source: Jason Henderson