Dina Asher-Smith: ‘For the first time in 10 years, I can just kind of be’

<span>Dina Asher-Smith has been living in Texas for the past six months.</span><span>Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/Reuters</span>
Dina Asher-Smith has been living in Texas for the past six months.Photograph: Stéphanie Lecocq/Reuters

‘I’ve changed a lot,” says Dina Asher-Smith as she looks back at six dizzying months that have seen her decamp 5,000 miles from the Garden of England to the Lone Star state, find herself off the track, and rediscover her mojo on it.

“I went to a new coach, a new group, and a new philosophy. And part of the transformation is that I’m far more comfortable with letting people in.” And with those words, Britain’s greatest female sprinter opens the door to her new life in Texas for the first time. It’s one that involves playing Top Golf and taking up pottery, learning to relax away from the incessant pressures of low-level fame, and priming her body for the Paris 2024 Olympics, which begin in 100 days’ time.

“I’m loving it in Austin and I’ve been very spoiled with the sunshine,” she says. “I feel like everybody laughs at me when I talk about the sun. But, as a Brit, it changes everything.”

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With the move has come a willingness to try new things and to be herself again – including regular pottery lessons. She downplays her skill – but a photo of one of her mugs suggests she is pretty good.

“I wanted to learn a new skill, something creative that stimulated my mind in a different way,” she says. “And I’m loving it. I go once or twice a week, and I’m chatting to people, being bad at stuff, watching things collapse, and trying again. I’m still not very good at putting the handles on. But I’ve been posting it to my close friends and teammates on Instagram. And they’ve all been asking: ‘Can you bring me back a mug?’”

She acknowledges it is a cliche, but Texas has provided a voyage of self-discovery. “What has stood out to me here, is that I can just kind of ‘be’. In the UK I’m not super, super high-profile, but every single day I am getting recognised. It’s always lovely. It’s always great. There’s no bad vibes. But I didn’t realise what an effect it had on me.

“That feeling of always being ‘on’ – of always having to look all right, because people will stop you and take a picture. And always having to appear happy, even if you’re having the worst day ever. It has been almost 10 years since I can just kind of ‘be’ in my life.”

So doesn’t she get recognised in Austin? Not often. “Track isn’t huge here,” she adds. “So – and I know it sounds silly – I’ve just been going for walks, playing mini golf and Top Golf, and just doing stuff that I wouldn’t necessarily feel super comfortable doing in the UK because I know that my job would be a topic of conversation. Being able to switch off has been one of the best things.”

The move to Austin also meant saying goodbye to her former coach John Blackie, who guided her career from the age of eight, to just before her 28th birthday – but had found it increasingly difficult to travel with his mobility scooter in his 70s. The change is captured in a new documentary series, Chasing Glory, which follows seven athletes, including Asher-Smith, on the road to Paris and starts on Discovery+ and Eurosport on Wednesday night at 7pm.

“I was with John for 19 years, and I count him as family,” she says. “That will come across very strongly. But then with the move, the documentary also took an incredibly interesting twist, which I don’t think any of us were expecting.”

Asher-Smith is now coached by the highly rated Edrick “Flo” Floréal and trains with the world indoor 60m champion, Julien Alfred, whose times over 100m and 200m suggest she will be a medal contender in Paris. The Irish 400m star Rhasidat Adeleke, who finished fourth in the world championships in Budapest, adds even further competition.

Training alongside other world‑class athletes has been a major change for Asher-Smith but her early performances in 2024 suggest it is paying off. Last month she led off an all-star 4x200m team, including Lanae Thomas, Adeleke and Alfred, who ran the fastest women’s time in history – with their finishing time of 1min 27.05sec equating to an average of 21.76sec per person.

However the biggest eureka moment came when Asher-Smith made a rare foray up to 400m to run a lightning fast 51.19 relay leg, despite taking it easy for the first 200m. “You can imagine my internal shock, because I wasn’t tired!” she says. “So I’m super excited. I’ve worked really hard so those performances didn’t come as a surprise. But it’s lovely to just see training translate to a race. And it just gives me so much confidence and excitement to attack others.”

She knows that few British athletes have a better CV given her medal haul now stands at 17 – including six golds from the world championships, European championships and Commonwealth Games. But she also is aware that people will keep pointing out that an Olympic title has so far eluded her. The Tokyo Games proved particularly heartbreaking as she broke down in tears after the 100m semi-finals, before revealing that a hamstring tear six weeks earlier had ruined her chances.

While Asher-Smith admits it would be “nice to win a gold medal”, she rejects the simplistic notion that she has unfinished business at the Olympics.

“I’m not somebody who carries any kind of baggage,” she says. “I don’t think that’s a useful way to run. You have to go into everything with a clean slate. Some people are very motivated by previous frustrations. But I’m somebody who just needs to feel free and light and joyful to run fast. That’s my mentality.”

It is a statement every bit as powerful as the one she hopes to make in Paris. “Especially in a year that I’ve changed so much, every single day I have been thinking about the Olympics, more so than anything else,” she says. “I’m just really excited to get out there and race.”