On the path to conquering the 200m crown at the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith dominated the sprinting scene at the Berlin 2018 European Athletics Championships.
A sprint treble in the German capital seemed a credible outcome based on her early season form and results but Asher-Smith’s lofty level in the Olympic Stadium even surprised herself. “I have obliterated my own expectations,” said the Brit after the 200m final.
The balance of power in the sprinting events might still be in favour of the Jamaicans and North Americans but Asher-Smith still had to overcome some significant competition to secure her two individual titles. Her scalps included the rising German Gina Luckenkemper in the 100m and multiple world and European champion Dafne Schippers from the Netherlands in both the 100m and 200m.
News of a European title in the sprints might not ordinarily make much of an impact outside Europe but Asher-Smith’s winning times certainly reverberated beyond the confines of the continent. After relaxing to a 10.93 clocking in the 100m semifinal on the first day proper of the championships, Asher-Smith broke new ground in the final later that evening, smashing her British record and equalling the world lead of 10.85.
Asher-Smith’s winning time was the second fastest in championship history, bettered only by Christine Arron’s still-standing European record of 10.73 from the Budapest 1998 European Athletics Championships where she rode a 2.0 m/s tailwind, right on the allowable legal limit. And the depth in European sprinting is such that all three medallists ducked under the 11 second-barrier with Luckenkemper (10.98) and Schippers (10.99) taking silver and bronze respectively.
Asher-Smith returned to the track two days later, refreshed and refocused after her exploits in the 100m, and a similar scenario played out with the Brit qualifying fastest for the 200m final in 22.33 and with plenty left in reserve.
And Asher-Smith left Schippers trailing in her wake as the Brit blitzed to her second gold medal, blazing under the 22 second-barrier for the first time with another British record and world lead of 21.89. The intense heat at the start of the championships had given way to cooler and fresher conditions, making Asher-Smith’s winning time all the more outstanding.
Having raced each other in major competitions since 2014, Asher-Smith was acutely aware of just how formidable Schippers is in the home straight. Drawn directly outside the Dutchwoman in the final, Asher-Smith ran an electric bend and Schippers was unable to make any impression on the Brit in the second half, although she did set a season’s best of 22.14 to win silver - a time which would ordinarily suffice for gold at the European Championships.
“I thought 'maintain your form, relax and all the other tips my coach gives me' – but ultimately you have to run like a bat out of hell,” said Asher-Smith, trying to recall what she could remember from the final. “The race was over in a blur. It was a mixture of happiness and relief.”
Asher-Smith joined illustrious and respected company including Fanny Blankers-Koen from the Netherlands, Poland's Irena Szewinska, Irina Privalova from Russia as well as Schippers by completing the sprint double but she still had one more race to come and one more chance to further embellish her tally which would take her into an even more exclusive band of sprinters.
Taking hold of the baton in the 4x100m relay final on the cusp of the medals, Asher-Smith duly applied the afterburners again and tore past her rivals, transforming a slight deficit into a significant winning cushion for the Brits.
A third British record just eluded Asher-Smith but she did come away from Berlin with a hat-trick of gold medals as well as three world leading times, the British team stopping the clock at 41.88 ahead of the Netherlands in 42.15. Asher-Smith became just the third female sprinter to win a sprint treble and the first Brit to win three European titles at the same championships.