Dina Asher-Smith powers to 100m gold for first major title in five years

<span>Dina Asher-Smith celebrates winning the women's 100m final.</span><span>Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters</span>
Dina Asher-Smith celebrates winning the women's 100m final.Photograph: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Lightning in the sky, thunder on the track. And, on a wild night in Rome, the welcome sight of Dina Asher-Smith powering to a 100m gold medal again at these European Athletics Championships.

But Britain’s greatest sprinter was forced to recover from one of the worst starts of her career, which left her several metres down on her rivals. But she refused to panic, and showed considerable grit as well as class to come through in 10.99 sec.

Related: ‘I want to attack every race’: Keely Hodgkinson sets sights on double gold

That put her just 0.03 clear of Poland’s Ewa Swoboda, who claimed silver, with Italy’s Zaynab Dosso taking bronze. No wonder Asher-Smith whispered the words “Fuck me” as she crossed the line and gave a look that suggested she couldn’t quite believe she had pulled off this Italian job.

Incredibly, this was also the 28-year-old’s first major title since winning 200m at the world championships in 2019 – due to the pandemic, multiple injuries, including a hamstring tear six weeks before the Tokyo Olympics, and multiple other bad beats.

But here, at last, there was a sense of redemption, and of renewed hope. “I didn’t panic in my running,” she said . “But my head was a different story.

We have worked really hard on my technique, my mechanics, my top end speed,” she added. “And I was very grateful for that today. That’s not normally my style of race.”

It was also vindication for Asher-Smith’s decision last autumn to take the radical step of moving from Bromley in Kent to Austin, Texas. In the US she works under a new coach, Edrick “Flo” Floréal, a new training group, including 100m star Julien Alfred, and has also taken up golf and pottery.
Now she is trying to sculpt a better life on the track too – although she admits it is still a work in progress.
“I’m in a great place, but when you’ve got a few new things to get your head round sometimes it does take a little bit of time,” she admitted. “Overall I’m really happy that I’m six to eight months into a new setup and I’m here putting together performances like this back to back.”

But while Asher-Smith’s victory provided the biggest headline, this was a day when Britain’s women also won four other medals in the 1500m, half marathon, and 3,000m steeplechase.

Perhaps the most heartwarming story came in the women’s 1500m as Georgia Bell, who quit the sport after going to university before taking it up again during the pandemic thanks to parkrun, won a brave silver medal.

Bell, who is taking a sabbatical from her job working in AI and cyber-security, has made huge strides since starting work with Trevor Painter, who coaches Olympic and world 800m silver medallist Keely Hodgkinson, two years ago.

But this was her finest moment yet as she held her nerve in a slowly run race to come second behind Ireland’s Ciara Mageean, who took gold in 4:04.66. France’s Agathe Guillemot took bronze, but the Briton’s highly fancied other finalists, Jemma Reekie and Katie Snowden could only finish fifth and ninth.

“I’m glad I came back to the sport,” said Bell. “I don’t know what I’d be doing right now at home with the Sunday scaries ahead of work tomorrow, but instead I’m here.

“I’m on a sabbatical over the summer, so I have had a little break which is really nice, just to have time to not have to fit in training before and after work.”

Now she is focusing on trying to make Team GB’s squad for the Olympics for which she is surely a shoo-in now. “Work were really fantastic,” she said. “I asked after the World Indoors for a sabbatical.

“Steve Cram did me a solid because on the BBC he said something like: ‘Georgia must know if she gives running a good go she has got a good shot,’ and everyone in my work was tuned in. So they were like: ‘Ah, maybe she is kind of good, and maybe we should support her over the summer’.”

Earlier in the day, Britain won a first gold medal of these championships in the half marathon team event through Calli Hauger-Thackery, Abbie Donnelly, Clara Evans and Lauren McNeil. Hauger-Thackery also took individual bronze behind Norway’s Karoline Bjerkeli Grøvdal.

There was another British medal in the women’s 3000m steeplechase as Lizzy Bird ran a controlled race to take bronze in 9:18.39.

Meanwhile there was a first gold medal for Ukraine at these European championships as the high jump world champion Yaroslava Mahuchikh won with a clearance of 2:01m.