Dina Asher-Smith snatched victory in a thrilling women’s 100m to delight an expectant home crowd at the Birmingham Diamond League.
The world 200m champion came home in 11.10 seconds, prompting a belated outpouring of delight from Great Britain’s sprint queen after such a nail-biting finish at the newly renovated Alexander Stadium, which will host the Commonwealth Games this summer.
In the first major event since its lavish £72m makeover, Asher-Smith delivered a fine performance as the headline athlete in perhaps the strongest event in athletics right now.
While there was still a tinge of disappointment from Jamaican superstar Elaine Thompson-Herah’s late drop-out on Thursday, having felt “discomfort” in training, Asher-Smith added another layer of intrigue to an event with immense interest around the world.
Shericka Jackson, Thompson-Herah’s compatriot and a bronze medallist in Tokyo, was agonisingly denied victory, settling for second and a time just one-hundredth of a second behind Asher-Smith, whose compatriot and Olympic finalist Daryll Neita finished third in 11.14.
“I feel like I’ve progressed,” Asher-Smith said following the victory. “I feel like I’ve worked really hard but if you speak to loads of athletes, loads of people always think they’ve improved. I do believe I have more scope in both 100m and 200m and we’ve worked really hard over the past three years to get that.
“If you think in 2019, I was just a different person, mentally, and in a different position physically. I’ve never been much of a time person because sometimes you can execute a recipe of movements and it’s a mad headwind or it’s freezing cold. I just don’t think it’s ever wise to get bogged down in whether it’s a good time, although I’ll take it.”
American star Gabby Thomas, fresh from her 200m Diamond League win in Doha, finished fifth. It was the Olympic bronze medallist’s second 100m dash of the afternoon, having made the peculiar move to line up in the B race just an hour earlier, perhaps in a bid to simulate the feeling of negotiating heats ahead of a summer that promises to test the athlete’s strength as well as raw speed.
“It’s only May”, as Asher-Smith has emphasised throughout the week, but the result should give the 2019 200m world champion confidence, with blustery conditions and a freshly laid track impacting times.
The tantalising prospect of Florence Griffith Joyner’s 34-year-old world record of 10.49 seconds going later this year remains though. And while Thompson-Herah, or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, look favourites to seize a piece of history, Asher-Smith will be quietly buoyed by her latest outing.
The 26-year-old is also carefully positioning her form and schedule like a chess master, with Great Britain women’s 4x100m team storming to victory in a world-leading time of 42.29 seconds.
Great Britain’s men suffered a setback though, with Zharnel Hughes enduring a nightmarish meet. From yet another disqualification in the 100m, won by Aaron Brown in 10.13, which caught the ire of the legendary Michael Johnson. A botched final changeover also saw Team GB’s hopes of a morale-boosting victory to bury the pain of their Olympic medal being rescinded due to CJ Ujah’s doping ban.
Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson, who is blossoming into a genuine superstar on the track after winning Olympic silver last summer, delivered a dominant victory in the 800m, clocking 1.58.63 and banishing fears that her thigh tear from March might linger to hold her back in what promises to be a historic year.
“It’s definitely an improvement from last year but I just think the bar’s been raised so much this year,” she said. “Having run 1.55 last year, my aim this year is to be running 1.58, 1.57, 1.56 consistently. I want to be up there in the Diamond Leagues, not coming fourth or fifth. So as much as championships are where it’s at, I want to be more consistent throughout the year.”
Great Britain’s other Olympic silver medallist, Laura Muir, was also in fine form in the women’s 1,500m, running 4:02.81.
“I didn’t think I’d even be running here. So not just to be running, but to be competitive and to be winning. I’m very happy,” said the Scot, fresh from recovering from a lingering back problem. “Initially I had back pain but it was just because I was compensating, I jammed up a joint in my back.
“We fixed that and found out it was the hip instead. I was compensating so much without realising it, making it hard to work out where the pain was. I went and got specialist scans in London and found the stress response in the femur and that was that, hard to start rehab from there – on crutches, in the swimming pool and then the gym.”
Elsewhere, Jake Wightman banked a valuable effort in the 800m, dropping down from his preferred 1,500m to take fourth, with Canada’s Marco Arop’s powerful kick leaving the competition in the dust.
And in the men’s 1,500m Josh Kerr was denied the speedy race he craved on his return to the UK since his bronze in Tokyo last year. The Scot settled for fifth, with Abel Kipsang posting another impressive victory, hinting at a new king in the event despite Jakob Ingebrigtsen’s glory last year and the recent dominance of Timothy Cheruiyot. While youngster Matthew Stonier, 20, produced a PB of 3:37 on his Diamond League debut, finishing in an excellent eighth.