Daily Telegraph: Dina Asher-Smith has medals to win
The life Dina Asher-Smith has lived for the past 22 years is about to change forever. From winning the European 100 metres title and becoming the fastest woman on the planet this year, she is now odds-on to make history, with two further gold medals up for grabs in the coming days.
That she will become the darling of British athletics seems inevitable – she is the natural heir to Jessica Ennis-Hill’s crown.
Expectation will grow, publicity will increase and marketing experts are already talking about seven-figure sponsorship sums.
But no greater insight can be gleaned into the unwavering focus of the would-be queen than her late night abstinence in the wake of her greatest triumph to date.
Confronted by a delivery of ice cream on arriving back at her Berlin hotel after claiming European gold on Tuesday evening, the self-confessed fast-food junkie forced herself to turn a blind eye, with the 200m and 4x100m yet to come.
“No celebration – I was like, ‘No ice cream for me,’” says Asher-Smith. “I’m not just focusing on the 100m and treating the 200m as a bonus. For me they mean the same. I’m only half-way or one-third of the way through my championships.”
Mention of the ice cream prompts startled wide eyes and a schoolmasterly “she didn’t tell me about that” from her long-term coach, John Blackie, before he is hastily reassured that she did not submit to her vice.
Blackie first came across Asher-Smith when she joined his Bees Academy coaching initiative for children under 12, and he has imparted to her the benefits of total focus. She was just one of hundreds of eager youngsters who would tear up and down the track in Bromley, south London, but Blackie soon had a hunch that someone special was on his hands.
“She obviously had a lot of athletic ability,” he says. “You look and see who has strong, muscular legs or a spring in their legs and Dina had both of those. You don’t know how they are going to turn out at that age, but you just know there’s something there.”
That X factor is something sports brands spend considerable time and money seeking out, long before athletes hit the public eye. Far from the glare of the spotlight, in places such as Bedford and Lee Valley, athletics scouts from sportswear companies routinely cast their eye over the next generation in a bid to hunt out a future gem.
Asher-Smith was one of them. Totally dominant in her region, she signed her first Nike contract at the end of 2012 after completing an English Under-17 sprint double that followed on from the same feat at Under-15 level.
The sportswear giant was not to know what the future might hold, but Blackie was already hopeful that he had a senior international under his charge. No one would have been so bold as to predict what has happened since. As the first British woman to have won European 100m gold since 1962, Asher-Smith is no longer a prospect for the future, but a genuine threat to any current sprinter in the world. She should head to next year’s World Championships as a triple European champion, with the 2020 Olympics looming on the horizon.
Such success on the track naturally attracts riches off it and brands are likely to fall over themselves to be associated with the ever-smiling King’s College London history graduate.
Sponsorship consultant Nigel Currie says Asher-Smith will now be entering a “completely different league” of marketing potential compared to her British team-mates.
“There is a falling off of the old crop from 2012,” Currie says. “The sprints are the blue-riband events and she is so marketable – she comes across brilliantly in interview, is highly intelligent, very switched on and that makes up a complete package.
“If she continues to do well and is able to stay at the top for a period of five years she could potentially become the highest-paid female athlete of all time. She has to win Olympic gold medals and stay up there for a long period, but that’s the potential for her.”
Fame and fortune comes at a price, though, and David Alexander, managing director of sports PR consultancy Calacus, says Asher-Smith must be careful not to take her eye off the ball.
“She will have to be prepared for personal appearances, interviews and photoshoots, and being available for a raft of television shows, while at the same time ensuring her training is not affected,” he says.
“What Dina has to remember, as Jessica Ennis-Hill experienced at London 2012, is that with great profile comes expectation and pressure, and that’s something she will have to cope with for the rest of her athletic career.
“The most important thing she can do is focus on her training and competition. All the profile in the world counts for little if she is not on the podium winning medals, preferably of the gold variety.”
The public eye is not something that overly concerns the understated Blackie, who is unlikely to allow Asher-Smith to get carried away, having greeted her previous 10.92sec national record with the gruff verdict: “She’s done OK.”
Blackie has always been impressed by Asher-Smith’s ability to compartmentalise the distractions in her life, be they media duties, studies or boyfriends – including former partner Zharnel Hughes, who replicated her European success with gold in the men’s race. If her immediate reaction to her world-leading time on Tuesday is anything to go by, there is little to worry about.
Having hit her pre-season target of 10.85sec that would prompt her to purchase a personal treat, Asher-Smith has now reneged on the deal she made with herself and set a new mission to go even faster before the year is out.
When it is pointed out she now leads this season’s world rankings, she counters by suggesting a non-Olympic and non-World Championships year “is not indicative of the next cycle”. Further, she argues that British sprinters are naturally in better shape than those of other nations due to the dual challenge of a Commonwealth Games and European Championships in the space of four months.
They are not the words of a young woman about to get carried away with success. This week, she says, is one big “stepping stone”. Greater things await.
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