Dina Asher-Smith returns to scene of greatest triumph following Tokyo 2020 heartbreak

When the British sprint sensation triumphed in the 200m final of the 2019 World Championships in Doha, it looked like an assault on Tokyo 2020 gold would be the next goal in her sights. However, a nightmare injury just before last year's Games left her Olympic dreams in tatters. Now she has a chance to get back on track at this week's Diamond League, which once again takes place in Doha. 

By Sean McAlister
Picture by 2019 Getty Images

Of all the sporting memories that must take pride of place in British sprint sensation Dina Asher-Smith’s mind, those from Doha 2019 are no doubt among the fondest. 

Her 200m gold at those World Championships was won in a national record of 10.83 seconds and was coupled with silvers in both the 100m and 4x100m relay.

She was - and is - the face of British athletics, a rare talent who is as influential on the track as she is off it

Tokyo 2020 was meant to be her tournament but the memories of those Games are far less pleasant.

A hamstring tear suffered at the British Championships, just a month before the Olympics, led to Asher-Smith failing to make the final of the Tokyo 2020 100m event, before calling time on her individual Olympic ambitions by pulling out of the 200m competition

For someone who was among the favourites and - in her own words - “the shape of her life” in 2021, it was a devastating blow that must be hard to come back from.

Doha highs 

The path to any championship medal is far from easy. Yet Asher-Smith chased glory at Doha 2019 with the kind of single-mindedness that puts many of her rivals in the shade. 

She refused all bread, wine and confectionary for months before the competition in a sign that she was willing to sacrifice in order to achieve her dreams. 

And the sacrifices - at home and on the track - paid off handsomely. 

In the 200m final in Doha, she became the first-ever British woman to win a major sprint title and the first athlete - male or female - since Linford Christie to win an Olympic or world title.

Of course, fortune had played its part, as it always does, with Jamaica’s Shelly-Anne Fraser Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah - both multiple Olympic champions - as well as two-time Olympic 400m champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo, all missing the final through choice or injury. However, Asher-Smith’s dominance in 2019 was such that she had beaten all of them, other than Miller-Uibo, in the Diamond League events of that season.

After the final, all of that mental and physical effort she had put in came to her mind as she swept to a glorious world championships gold medal. 

"I woke up today thinking, 'This is it. This is the moment you did all your work for',” she said in an interview after the race. “The tiredness disappeared."

Tokyo lows 

By 2021, Asher-Smith was once again in something close to the form of her life as she waited for her moment to shine at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

Once again denying herself the types of treats that most would see as harmless, but which can make a huge difference to an athlete who measures success in milliseconds, Asher-Smith was confident her preparations would allow her to perform at her best in Japan. 

“I’m in good shape, I’m actually in really, really good shape so I’m really excited,” she said at the time, before focussing her train of thought on the real difference-maker. “And I’m a championship performer.” 

However, injury can be a cruel leveller, and Asher-Smith’s brought her crashing down to earth. 

Hardly anyone at the time, save those in her closest circle, knew that Asher-Smith was injured at all, as she travelled secretly to Germany for treatment in a last-minute bid to save her Olympic Games.

“I was initially told in Manchester that it was a rupture and I would require surgery and it would take three to four months to come back so obviously it kind of was a lot to deal with because quite frankly with that diagnosis you’re like ‘I can’t go to Tokyo’,” she reflected after pulling up injured at the Olympics. 

“We had this whole statement ready to go but then I thankfully got a second opinion and it was a slight misdiagnosis even though there was still quite a major tear but it wasn’t a rupture, my hamstring was still attached. So we turned over every single stone to make sure I could stand on the line.” 

But while Tokyo was heartache for Asher-Smith, there was a silver - or in this case bronze - lining. While she was forced to miss her favourite 200m event, she returned to race in the 4x100m final and, along with her teammates, won bronze in the final.

It was sweet redemption, perhaps, but you still feel there is unfinished business.

Returning to Doha for the start of the journey to Paris 2024

It’s less than a year since the Tokyo 2020 Games, and once again athletics is back in the spotlight. On Friday 13 May, Asher-Smith will once again line up in the 200m in Doha - albeit in a different stadium than the one where she triumphed in 2019.

But this time, she is at the beginning of another journey - one that will hopefully lead all the way to Paris 2024. 

The World Championships in Oregon that take place later this year may well prove to be the acid test of where Asher-Smith stands in comparison to her rivals - some of whom achieved glory in last year’s Olympic Games. 

However, for Asher-Smith the pathway to Paris starts here. 

While there will be no Thompson-Herah - back-to-back 100m and 200m Olympic champion, or three-time Olympic gold medallist Fraser-Pryce, there will be stiff challenges from seven other women whose best 200m times are separated by less than a second. 

Two of those athletes, the USA's Gabby Thomas and Jamaica's Shericka Jackson, have personal bests that are better than Asher-Smith’s (Jackson’s best is 21.81 and Thomas’s 21.61, compared to Asher-Smith’s 21.88). 

But the British athlete will know that greater challenges lie ahead, and a Diamond League meet in Doha followed by a home event in Birmingham, will give Asher-Smith vital competition experience as she sets her sights on the major championships - including the ultimate goal, Paris 2024.

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