Over the space of 24 hours last week Dina Asher-Smith’s nightmare season morphed into a glorious dream. First she finished a surprise fourth in the world championship 200m final. Then came a stunning silver in the 4x100m relay. For much of the spring Asher-Smith was on crutches, having broken the navicular bone in her right foot, and she started running only in June. Yet here she was, suddenly blasting into the stratosphere again.
But her time of 22.22sec in that 200m final – her third fastest ever – was inevitably tinged with what-might-have-beens. “I’m really happy with how I ran in the 200m,” says the 21-year-old. “I’ve never finished that highly in a global championships, so it bodes well for the future. But to have been 0.07 away from a bronze, also makes me wonder if I’d have had a different result with just a couple of weeks more training.”
Even so, Asher-Smith remains relentlessly optimistic, despite a series of injuries since 2014 that have not allowed her to fully maximise her obvious talent. “If I was about 28 I would be a bit more angry,” she says, laughing. “But I’ve probably got another two Olympics left – and [high jumper] Morgan Lake and I were even debating whether we’d be at Los Angeles in 2028 too. I am convinced I am going to be there with a kid but we will see.
“And, arguably, this injury has done more for me in the long term mentally than having an easy season and getting a medal would have,” she adds. “That sounds crazy as a medal would have been fantastic, but when you are young you have to go through trials and tribulations to realise what real problems are.
“I’d rather get all my learning experiences now – so when I am older I have got that mental prep to do the business when I am physically at my peak.”
At least Asher-Smith has a relay silver to cherish. It was one of only six medals for Britain in London – four in the relays and two for Mo Farah – but she insists the world championships should be seen as a harbinger for rosier times. “I know everybody wants to see more medals but we had so many near misses,” she said. “There were so many people that have never finished a competition so highly before and many of them were in their early 20s.
“Kyle Langford is only 20, I am 21, while Katarina Johnson-Thompson and Laura Muir have at least one more Olympics in them too. That bodes really well, especially when the people finishing ahead of us are more experienced or reigning world or Olympic champions. The relays were absolutely fantastic, as was Mo, but overall there are quite a lot of positives.”
At the end of the world championships, the British Athletics performance director, Neil Black, insisted he was as “excited as hell” about Asher-Smith’s future. And on Sunday at the Diamond League meeting in Birmingham she gets another chance to show what she is capable of when she takes on a stellar 100m field, including the Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, the 200m world champion Dafne Schippers and Marie-Josée Ta Lou, who took silver in both the 100m and 200m in London.
There will also be national bragging rights at stake against her relay team-mates Daryll Neita, Desiree Henry and Asha Philip.
“We’re constantly having to flip-flop back and forth between team-mates and rivals but that’s part and parcel of the job,” says Asher-Smith. “It’s after the championship so everybody is a bit more relaxed. Some people will be super tired and some people will be fresh and ready to go.”
And what about her? “I am pretty close to my best,” she says. “My foot still plays up now and again but that’s standard when you’ve got screws in your foot. Your body is still getting used to having a new-shaped foot and a foot that functions differently to how it used to. But running a 22.2 off not much training is really good so I am hopefully looking to go a bit faster in the near future.”
Asher-Smith, who recently graduated from King’s College, London, with a 2:1 in history, intends to study for a masters or go into law. But for now she is excited about where becoming a full-time athlete might take her. “This year was very stressful, as all third-year students can tell you,” she says, laughing. “The degree was very intense – I did 61 essays in three years. So for the next few months, I am focusing on my training and enjoying the Commonwealth Games.
“I really want to maximise my potential and see where that takes me,” she adds, the steeliness evident beneath the smile. “So I am going to fully focus and be a proper professional athlete for the first time in my life and see what happens.”