When the question came, Dina Asher-Smith did not even blink. “What is it like being the hunted, not the hunter, now that you are one of the best sprinters in the world?” Britain’s triple European champion was asked. “I like it,” she replied. “It’s cool. Everybody thinks they are the best in the race. That’s how sprints work and that’s how it’s got to be. And I want to win.”
The 23-year-old proved she was world class in Berlin last year, clocking world-leading times of 10.85sec and 21.89 to break her own national records, as she won gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. However, she knows she will have her work cut out on Sunday when she headlines the Birmingham Diamond League in a 200m that oozes extreme class and guile.
When she looks around on the starting blocks she will see a who’s who of sprinting: Dafne Schippers, the world champion; Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a double Olympic gold medallist and seven-times world champion; Blessing Okagbare and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, who have run the second and third fastest times in the world this year. There will also be a host of other top sprinters who are likely to be in the world championship finals in Doha next month.
But the message from Asher-Smith is clear: bring it on. “You can’t be daunted by anybody,” she says. “There’s nobody in track and field who is infallible or unable to be beaten.”
Her confidence is understandable. Asher-Smith has run under 11 seconds for the 100m three times this season and won two of her three Diamond League races over 200m, and she intends to double up in Doha. She also has happy memories of Birmingham, where she ran a personal best and nearly took down the legendary Allyson Felix as a teenager in 2015.
“I love racing here,” she says. “One of my favourite races ever was in Birmingham when I first raced against Allyson and I ran a massive PB out of nowhere of 22.30sec. I was so dead; I threw up on Ricky Simms’ shoes afterwards! It was right next to the media tent and I said to him: ‘How am I going to do media?’ And he said: ‘You’ll be fine!’
“So I remember running out my skin here before and, obviously, I got rewarded,” she adds. “So I’m coming to run out my skin again. I’m naturally quite a chilled and quiet person but whenever I step on to the track, I’m fiercely competitive; and every time I step on the line, I’m here to win.
“I love running in the UK and I’m really happy I get to run in the UK late in the season and closer to the world championships. It’s not quite a final goodbye for the worlds but it’s as close as we can get.”
And she is not even scared by the thought of facing someone as great as Fraser-Pryce, who ran an astonishing 10.73 earlier this season for 100m after coming back from pregnancy.
“It actually makes me focus more,” she says. “I can’t be daunted by somebody else’s thing. If they want to break the world record, there’s nothing I can do to control it. All I can do is control my own performances. I am looking to do the best I can and if it comes in a nice glittery form in Doha then I will be really happy but even if it doesn’t and I run fast times I will have to take it.”
Event organisers have confirmed that more than 60 global medallists – including 10 reigning Olympic champions, two Paralympic champions and 13 reigning world champions – will compete at the Alexander Stadium.
Among them will be Christian Coleman, the fastest man in the world this year with a time of 9.81sec, who faces the Commonwealth champion Akani Simbine, triple Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse and the former European champion Adam Gemili. In the 400m, the European champion Matt Hudson-Smith returns to action in his local stadium for the men’s 400m – his first race since September 2018.
British eyes will also be on the long jump clash between Katarina Johnson-Thompson and her great heptathlon rival Nafi Thiam. Both women are focusing more on Doha, and are not expected to challenge the event specialists for victory. However, Johnson-Thompson, who has a personal best of 6.93m, intends to leave her mark, by inching somewhere closer to her best.
“It’s definitely important,” explained Johnson-Thompson. “It’s one of my strongest events but I haven’t been at the level which I’d like recently. So if I can produce a big jump, it would give me confidence.”
Thiam, meanwhile, is playing down their rivalry. “It’s great that Katarina is here because we know each other and I’m used to competing with her, but it’s a long jump competition,” she said. “We’re not in a heptathlon, so I don’t think winning is the point here. I just want to see where I am. In Doha it will be something else but here, I’m not putting pressure on myself to win. But I think it’s going to be very interesting in Doha.”