The British 100m and 200m record-holder has learned some valuable lessons in 2017 and tells Euan Crumley about her pride at battling back after injury
Dina Asher-Smith won’t be forgetting 2017 in a hurry. Not only will she look back on it as the year in which she graduated from university, but also as the one when she received an education about herself and discovered some reserves of strength and character she didn’t quite know she had.
The world championships year had begun in hope and expectation but, in February, during her last training session before the Müller Indoor Grand Prix meeting in Birmingham, the British record-holder over 100m and 200m landed awkwardly on her foot and fractured it. From that point on she was involved in a race to be fit for London.
That she even made it to the IAAF World Championships start line is quite an achievement in itself when you consider how painful and daunting the rehabilitation process was. She was only back jogging in June, after all.
The level of performances she produced on her return to the track are even more impressive given that this was all being balanced with studies, dissertations, exams and everything else that comes with completing a history degree at King’s College in London, from which she emerged with a 2:1.
After London 2017, during which she narrowly missed out on bronze in the 200m and won silver in the 4x100m, Asher-Smith continued to impress on the track with performances such as her 200m victory over world silver medallist Marie-Josée Ta Lou at the IAAF Challenge meeting in Berlin. The season ended on a winning note, too, over 150m at the Great North CityGames.
When the 21-year-old does get the chance to reflect and let such a hugely eventful time all sink in, there will be an overriding sense of pride.
“I am very happy and a little surprised and proud – something I don’t say very often – about how it has turned out”
“It’s been a long year,” she says. “It has been interesting for me, as starting off I did not know what was going to happen.
“I hoped I was going to have a good season, I hoped that London was going to go well. But it was very hit and miss. Everything in my rehab programme had to go exactly to plan. We didn’t have a week or two weeks to mess about and get it wrong and have to re-adjust.
“We did not have that time-frame. Everything was very much timed to running well in London. It had to follow that plan otherwise I would not be in the right shape. That was very, very intense and it’s been an intense year as well with graduating at uni. I am very happy and a little surprised and proud – something I don’t say very often – about how it has turned out.”
“Any athlete will tell you that when you have rehab on a tight timescale it is far harder than training,” she adds. “Everything is much more intense, everything is so much more painful and the stakes are so much higher.
“If a training session doesn’t go according to plan, it’s okay, you can work the next day and catch up. With rehab if you don’t get what you want out of it then technically you are put back a day, you are put back a week and you have to come back and do the same as you did yesterday, when you really want to be moving on.
“It was a very painful rehab. Breaking your foot and having to get back to running on it is not very nice – so far more intensive than training. It’s been mentally draining so when the world champs finished I was so happy and had such a high but then mentally I felt “I’m exhausted” because I had been pushing, pushing, pushing effectively since last September and then January, pushing into indoors.
“Then I break my foot and there’s uni, exams, dissertation, rehab, pushing, pushing, pushing, having to find form, into outdoors, going straight into worlds, phew!”
She might not have chosen to go through all of this, but Asher-Smith admits it will be good for her long-term health and career that she has added considerably to her armoury by successfully coming through a time which has bordered on the traumatic.
“These were, mentally and physically, some of the biggest tests I have had to go through,” she says. “I hope I don’t have another one like that but, even if I do, I know it is possible (to get through it). Breaking a foot, turning it around and going to world champs six months later is pretty unheard of so I was pretty proud of myself and the rest of my wider team – my physio, the medical team and my coach as well, who looked after everything – that we were able to do that.
“Now if I tear a hamstring – obviously I don’t want to – I’ll think ‘fine, four weeks out, rehab and go – easy’. Nothing compared to three to four months out and then having to go to a home world champs a couple of weeks later.”
But her world championships performance has also planted the seed of what might truly be possible in the future.
“I am so excited. It has made me rejig my assessments for next year and my whole career really because I did not know the characteristics I had to pull out – like perseverance, hard work and staying focused even when it seems that the world and timing and everything is against you,” says Asher-Smith, who is targeting a senior debut at the Commonwealth Games in April and the European Championships in Berlin but has yet to decide on the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Birmingham.
“And I did not know that I could do it to the extent I needed to to pull myself back into London. So I want to carry the self-belief and those traits that I dragged out of myself this year into the rest of my career. And it is exciting with Commonwealths and Europeans next year – they are really good stepping stones and then I’m looking to go and do well in Doha and Tokyo.”
» Euan Crumley’s full four-page interview with Dina Asher-Smith can be found in the September 14 edition of AW magazine