Team GB's Dina Asher-Smith on Olympics preparation, speaking out about racism and body positivity

Asher-Smith: Olympics not just for 'Adonis-like' competitors (1:39)

Team GB sprinter Dina Asher-Smith says the Olympics proves there's more than one way to be fit. (1:39)

As news filtered through that the 2020 Olympic Games would be put on hold for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dina Asher-Smith spoiled herself with McDonalds and some chocolate cake. The 25-year-old admits she was relieved by the announcement because not only did it give her a rare opportunity to relax and reflect, it also meant she could now reset and make sure she was in the best condition to compete for the summer of 2021.

With the Tokyo Games already underway and the opening ceremony taking place on Friday, the British sprinter has got herself in the best possible shape after returning to healthier nutritional options following that brief fast food break. She is looking to follow up her gold medal in the 200 metres at the 2019 World Championships in Doha with Olympic glory.

Asher-Smith is only competing at her second Olympics and will seek to improve on the bronze medal she claimed in the 4x100m relay during her debut Games in Rio 2016. She is comfortable heading into the competition as one of the favourites for both the 100m and 200m races but also understands how her success can encourage others in the future.

"I like to win and that's what I train for, especially with where my mind is at the moment with the Olympics," she tells ESPN. "I want to be somebody who was able to be successful and show people that there's no right way to do something -- you have to find our own path.

"Life is all of our own individual journeys. There's no right way to embark on any journey and that is especially true in sport. I haven't thought about [legacy] but maybe I'd like to see more and more young women participate in sport and feel empowered and be very confident and take all these values that you can learn from a sporting environment and place them in whatever avenue they want to pursue in life. Whether in sports, the boardroom, a scientist, anything. I'd like them to have a sporting life because it's a lot of fun."

During lockdown, Asher-Smith found a new fun approach to keep fit and took to the local park to run among deer with gyms, athletics tracks and leisure centres shut down.

"It is not something I'd continue to do," she laughs. "It was strange but actually really nice, lots of nature and very calming but was not the same performance value as my normal training partners."

As lockdown restrictions began to ease, Asher-Smith was able to get back into her normal training programme with long-time coach John Blackie and hasn't looked back since. She opened the outdoor season with an impressive 200m victory in Italy and has finished in first place in all eight races she started this year.

Asher-Smith seems to be peaking at just the right time ahead of the Olympics. She clocked a season's best time of 22.06 seconds in the 200m at the Diamond League meeting in Florence in June and set a championship record of 10.91s in the 100m at the British Athletics Championships two weeks later.

The British star might need to run even faster to claim the biggest prize in Japan this summer especially in the 100m which will be a must-watch event. Jamaican sprinters have also impressed this season with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce becoming the second-fastest woman in history with a time of 10.63s in June, while reigning Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson have clocked the second and fourth-quickest times respectively this year.

American Sha'Carri Richardson was also set to be a medal contender alongside Asher-Smith in the 100m and 200m but she will not compete at the Olympics after returning a positive test for marijuana at the start of July.

Asher-Smith can take confidence in the fact that she has beaten both Fraser-Pryce and Richardson on the track this year but she refuses to put any additional pressure or expectations on herself.

"I'm somebody who always wants to go into the major championships and do the best that I possibly can," she explains. "I know it sounds underwhelming but in all honestly, if you want to perform well, that's where your mentality has to be.

"You have to be in a position to put your best foot forward and in the process, you have to work very hard that your best performance is very, very good.

"There's lots of steps to be able to [reach the finals] and I have to be really focused on the process rather than the results to be able to ultimately be successful. You can't get ahead of yourself because as you soon as you do, then you start missing steps and if you miss steps, then you don't do as well so just focus."

Away from the track, Asher-Smith has found her voice in more ways than one. A month after the world witnessed the horrific murder of American George Floyd by a police officer last year, Asher-Smith decided to express her experiences with racism in the United Kingdom in her newspaper column.

The opening paragraph includes the words "tiring," "exhausting," "emotionally draining" and "heart-breaking" in a piece where similar to her preparation, she leaves no stone unturned.

In March, Asher-Smith received the column of the year award by the International Sport Press Association and she says it was the first prize she has won that didn't involve sport or running. The Brit admits that she was shocked to receive the award but felt it was necessary to share her emotions with the public on such an important topic.

"I just wrote from the heart," she says. "I remember at the time it was a topic that was both really difficult but really easy to write about. Writing the column, it was easy to type because it was just things that were very honest to me and my life, opinion, experiences and my feelings. But bringing myself to the laptop and the process of having to actually sit down and write it, that took a long time.

"I actually missed my first deadline and had to tell my editor that I've tried to write this so many times and emotionally it's very difficult. I was happy with the reception because ultimately, I was thinking how can I help people understand what a lot of Black people feel.


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"You had the amazing Naomi Osaka do her fantastic symbol at the US Open which was so inspirational and incredible and from a British perspective, you had Lewis Hamilton doing a similar thing when he was racing. I thought if I really want to make a change in boardrooms and people that are doing a lot of consumption of media then I think it would be a good idea to put it into words.

"I was very happy that it was able to affect people because at the end of the day, I just wanted people to think and understand. Call me naive but I firmly believe and hope that the vast majority of people would never want fellow citizens, people of their community to feel put out in any kind of way.

"I'm an optimist but I do think sometimes that people need to stand in other peoples' shoes to understand and I thought at that moment, that's what lots of the world was very open to doing in a way that we haven't seen before so I thought putting it in very honest words for the influential audience of newspaper readers was the best way I could do it in that moment from the confides of my flat."

Asher-Smith has also used her platform to lend support to fellow athletes. Following Osaka's announcement that she would be avoiding the press at the French Open to look after her mental health, Asher-Smith released a statement on Twitter backing the tennis star and explained the pressure that athletes can be under when asked questions which are solely designed to trip them up to stir controversy.

Asher-Smith ended her statement with the phrase #BeKind and previously told ESPN about the importance of speaking out on mental health as it can encourage others to open up. She also lent public support to British teenager Emma Raducanu who enjoyed a sensational run at Wimbledon this year but was forced to retire her fourth-round match after having difficulties with her breathing.

Asher-Smith will be hopeful that Team Great Britain can generate as much excitement around the nation as Euro 2020 achieved this summer. She found herself enthralled with the England men's national team reaching its first tournament final in 55 years which ended in defeat on penalties to Italy at Wembley.

Asher-Smith supports Manchester United but claims the choice was solely to appease her mother Julie, who is a "die-hard" fan. "Quite frankly, I know that if I said anything apart from Man United being my team, she would disown me," she jokes with a hint of seriousness.

"I'm proudly a Man United fan but I don't have a choice in the matter. I will always be a Man United fan mainly because I want to maintain a good relationship with my mother but I have to be upfront and say there is nuance to me being a Man United fan."

The sprinter has visited Old Trafford in the past and she could make the trip back up to Manchester next season with Premier League matches set to be at full capacity after the UK government ended COVID-19 restrictions from July 19.

Unfortunately for Asher-Smith and the athletes heading to Tokyo for the Olympics, they won't be able to perform on the biggest stage in front of packed stadiums after spectators were banned amid a rise in coronavirus cases in Japan.

Even without supporters, Asher-Smith is aware of the uniqueness of the Olympics and how it can inspire people all over the world to get involved in sport. Earlier this year, she wrote about the importance of promoting body confidence after an eight-year-old at a school confided in the sprinter about her own weight issues.

Asher-Smith is more than capable of inspiring future athletes by claiming gold in Tokyo but is also adamant the Olympic Games send a powerful message by showing how athletes of different shapes and sizes can excel in their field.

"I think it is one of the USPs and one of the biggest and proudest elements of the Olympics Games," she says. "It's the fact that you can see everyone from everywhere, they all look completely different and everybody goes about doing their sport in a different, bio-mechanical way.

"For example, I'm 5'5" but at the same time I'm racing girls that are 6'2" on one side and then girls on the other side who are 4'11" as well. Some people are tall and slender and some people are very powerful and we're all running the same times.

"It shows lots of people around the world that there is not one right way to do something and one way to be excellent at something. I think that is a fantastic part of the whole Olympic Games because you just see so many diverse people and diverse body shapes from all different socioeconomic backgrounds come together and be excellent at what they do.

"It shows the next generation that there is absolutely no right way to do anything and that's a message that the Olympic and especially the Paralympic movement has been on board with for years and years.

"If we're talking about body diversity and positivity, when people think about the Olympics, they might imagine these adonis-like people but honestly, if you actually look, these people might be fit but there's more than one way to be fit, more than one way that fit gets expressed and these people are the best in the world at what they do and they all look different.

"That's what's really great about the Olympic Games and I really hope that seeing that gives a lot of people confidence in their own skin."