In 2012 Dina Asher-Smith was picking up Jessica Ennis-Hill’s shoes, but now she’s hoping to step into them – as the next female star of British athletics.
Four years ago, she had just qualified for Britain’s junior team and spent London 2012 as a “box carrier”, collecting kit for the competing athletes. “I was ‘carrying’ on Super Saturday,” she says. “At first we looked at the timetable and were really upset that we weren’t there for the men’s 100m final. Little did we know that we had the best night of the whole Olympics!”
Now 20, Asher-Smith is Britain’s fastest-ever woman, setting new national records over 60m, 100m and 200m in 2015, and ready to kick on again in good time to qualify for Rio this summer. Not bad for someone who is also studying for a history degree.
“For example, tomorrow I have a lecture between 9 and 10am in central London,” the undergraduate explains, sitting in the library of King’s College, London. “Then at 10.30am I have my gym session. Normally I’ll go to the library afterwards, because with history there’s so much reading and I’ve essays to do.
“I’ve got quite a few deadlines during the indoor season. I’ll go home, sleep, have something to eat, then have my second session at the track near where I live in Bromley, south London. There’s no special dispensation. It’s not my kind of thing to be asking for it.”
Asher-Smith does have one thing going for her when balancing her studies and track drills: athletes are great ones for forward planning. British Athletics mentor and Olympic silver medallist Steve Cram says hitting form at the right time for the Olympic Games is no different to pacing a race. He began laying out the plan for his athletes in 2016 early last year – from heavy pre-Christmas training, through altitude camps for the athletes in January and May, to Team GB selection at the end of June.
“When you are in an Olympic year, what happens in January and February isn’t the be-all and end-all,” he says. “Athletics get a little bit more touchy about pushing things too much at this stage, but on the other hand they’ve got to push as hard as they can in training to be as good as they can be. It’s a balancing act.
“Occasionally you see people have a very good indoor season, almost too good, and then they’re not quite as sharp come the summer. And coaches and athletes are only too aware that when you’re competing at your best, you’re most prone to injury.”
“Some people might think it just begins in 2016,” says Asher-Smith. “But it’s been quite a few years getting into senior teams, building up, training harder. Glasgow is very important, but at the same time it’s just another stepping stone in a very long process.”
Going into Glasgow, Rio dreams – and anxieties — are a long way off. Asher-Smith isn’t even sure that her parents have booked flights for Brazil yet. Clearly not all logistics can be planned years ahead. “My parents don’t talk about it!” she laughs. “They think it gets me nervous, which is a bit silly, but I’ll leave them to it.
“My friends have been joking for absolute years, asking if I can get them a free trip. It’s really nice they’ve got that faith in me, but I’m the one who has to get to get there first, aren’t I? Otherwise it’s a bit awkward.”
Still, if she begins 2016 the way she finished 2015, she won’t just be studying history. She’ll be making it.