Dina Asher-Smith fades to finish third on international return

·2-min read
Dina Asher-Smith fades to finish third on international return - KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images
Dina Asher-Smith fades to finish third on international return - KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images

In athletics, it rarely pays to make assumptions based on early-season results. This time last year, Dina Asher-Smith blitzed the best runners in the world to triumph in her first Diamond League race of the season only to end up injured by the Olympics.

Nonetheless, not even she felt the need to disguise her disappointment at only finishing third in her first international race of the year on Friday night.

In the time that Asher-Smith struggled with injury in 2021, Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson and America’s Gabby Thomas ran faster over 200 metres than the reigning world champion ever has, and the pair left her in their wake at the Doha Diamond League.

Despite a brilliant start meaning she led into the bend, Asher-Smith faded as the race went on and was soon left watching her rivals - both of whom won Olympic medals in her absence last summer - pull clear.

Aided by a 1.3m/s tailwind, Thomas, the Olympic 200m bronze medallist, won in 21.98 seconds, with Olympic 100m bronze medallist Jackson second in 22.07sec. Asher-Smith was some way back in 22.37sec.

“It was OK. I feel like I was in a bit better shape than that time so I’m a little bit disappointed,” said Asher-Smith. “But at the same time, it is the first race, so I’ve got to get a few more under my belt.

“I am in good shape this year. Now and again, it takes me a while to warm up. So it’s all good.”

The scale of the task facing Asher-Smith if she is to retain her world title in July is evident. When she claimed that gold medal in 2019, becoming the first British woman ever to win a global sprint title, there were no rivals of note in the race. Yet her winning time of 21.88sec would have been good enough for gold in 13 of the 17 editions of the World Championships.

Her issue now is that five women, including Thomas and Jackson, went faster than that last season. Namibian teenager Christine Mboma, who won Olympic silver, was meant to line up in Friday night’s race but withdrew through injury, while double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah clocked a remarkable 21.53sec to triumph in Tokyo.

Whether Asher-Smith can improve that much is unknown. Pre-race, she insisted the pandemic and last year’s injury meant she had been unable to “showcase the work” she has put in since 2019 and she remained bullish after the race when asked about her ambitions for the year: “I want to win the World Championship, obviously.”