Dina Asher-Smith has warned her rivals that she is stronger than ever as she prepares to face the twin threat of the 100m world champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and the emerging US threat Sha’Carri Richardson in a mouthwatering encounter in Gateshead on Sunday.
Asher-Smith has barely been seen since winning the world 200m title in Doha in October 2019 but says she has been cranking out more than 300 stomach exercises most days in preparation for the first Diamond League meeting of the season.
When asked how she had improved over the pandemic, she said: “I’m much, much stronger physically. I’ve just had so much more time to work. I’m much more technically proficient too. It’s only in the past few weeks that I’ve stopped doing over 300 ab exercises in a training session.
“It’s been crazy. It’s been an incredibly hard winter and I’m so excited to be racing.”
Even so, Asher-Smith will find it tough in Gateshead against Fraser-Pryce, who also won the 2008 and 2012 Olympic titles, and Richardson, who last month ran 10.72sec, the sixth-fastest time in history.
“It’s a stacked race,” Asher-Smith said. “It’s the start of the Diamond League season and I’m very fortunate to be part of a cohort of incredibly talented women. But if you come to a Diamond League, you have to come prepared and ready. But I have to always back myself as well.”
One of the hottest topics among the athletes has been whether they should take a knee at the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in support of Black Lives Matter – with Adam Gemili telling the IOC that “all hell would break loose” if they tried to stop protests.
Asher-Smith refused to be drawn on the issue, except to say: “It is a shame that kind of restriction has been put in place, especially when you consider what’s happening in the world right now. I don’t want to incite anything.”
Richardson was far bolder. “I am a big advocate for Black Lives Matter. I’m a proud black woman. Part of why I’m so successful and I’m so motivated is because of my black history. I definitely want to be part of that.
“The IOC has said their opinions and its restrictions but we as people have our own beliefs, we have our own rights.
“They have to know when the right time is to stand for something right. You have to know, when you have that platform, how to use it in the correct way. So I’m definitely going to show the world that Black Lives Matter. Forever and always.”
While the women’s 100m is undoubtedly the highlight, there is plenty else to whet the appetite in Gateshead, including Britain’s Laura Muir in the 1500m and Gemili in the men’s 200m. The world record holder, Mondo Duplantis, competes in a high-quality pole vault, while the world high jump champion, Mariya Lasitskene, is part of a lineup that boasts more than 100 global outdoor world and Olympic medals.
On Saturday, World Athletics approved the application of another 23 Russian track and field athletes to compete under a neutral flag at the Tokyo Olympics.
With their national federation under a doping suspension, Russians must apply for individual exemptions to gain “authorised neutral athlete” status after their drug-testing records have been vetted.
Twenty-seven Russians are now eligible to go to Tokyo, including the high jumper Mikhail Akimenko and the race walker Vasiliy Mizinov, both silver medallists from the 2019 world championships.