Team GB back on track? Asher-Smith leads promising European Championships
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New era. New crop. New generation. Those were the phrases coming out of the mouths of the pundits this weekend as Great Britains athletes showed their talent at the European Championships in Berlin.
Led by sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, Britain finished the 10-day multi-sport event with a tally of 74 medals to finish second overall, behind Russia. But it was first place in the athletics, with 18 medals, including seven golds.
With Jessica Ennis-Hill, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah either retired, nearly retired or focusing efforts elsewhere, UK Athletics has been crying out for new stars for some time. The events of the last week suggest that after a wait of six years their successors may be emerging.
The star of the show was undoubtedly Asher-Smith. The 22-year-old ran two British record times of 10.85 seconds and 21.89 to win gold medals in the 100m and 200m respectively, outclassing the field in dominant style, before completing a treble of golds in the 4x100m with Asha Philip, Imani-Lara Lansiquot, then Bianca Williams tonight.
She is the first woman to complete the 100-200-4x100m European treble since German Katrin Krabbe in 1990.
“Its joy and also a shock,” said Asher-Smith after winning her second gold on Saturday. “Things in my life dont normally go to plan. I crossed the line and thought: Ive won. I looked at the time and couldnt believe it. This is completely new territory for me.”
Her feelings were certainly mutual, with plenty of others producing promising performances. The sprint events were the stand-outs, with Zharnel Hughes taking the 100m in 9.95 seconds, ahead of team mate Reece Prescod.
Laura Muir added to the excitement today by powering away from the field to win gold and her first major outdoor title in the 1500m.
Elsewhere, Katarina Johnson-Thompson smashed her personal best to win silver behind world and Olympic champion Nafi Thiam in the heptathlon – a result she described as one of the favourites of her career after injuries.
Great Britain won both 4x100m titles in Berlin on Sunday (Source: Getty)
Laviai Nielsen, who was a volunteer at London 2012 and was ranked 16th ahead of the championships, ran three personal bests in the 400m to finish fourth.
There was a strong showing in the womens long jump too, with Shara Proctor taking a bronze medal ahead of Jazmin Sawyers in fourth.
Since the joyous events of Super Saturday at London 2012, there have been too few moments of magic from Team GB. Given what has come before, the results of the European Championships should provide encouragement – but how much?
The gap between European competition and the World Championships and Olympic Games is significant.
Can the likes of Asher-Smith make the step up? One person who can offer an informed opinion on the subject is track great Michael Johnson.
“She is now absolutely one of the best in the world,” said the BBC pundit. “Next years World Championships and the Olympic Games – this is a true contender now.”
Dina Asher-Smith was Great Britain's break-out star of the championships (Source: Getty)
Johnson praised her for having “the full package, physically, mentally and in terms of attitude”. Londoner Asher-Smith, who graduated from Kings College with a 2:1 in history last year, has consistently improved throughout her young career, and that is what is so exciting.
Great Britain have a fairly impressive record of producing talented athletes; its been the conversion rate to success on the biggest stages thats been lacking.
Aged just 22, Asher-Smith looks different. Her times in Berlin didnt just win medals – they laid down a marker. The Brit blasted past two-time world champion Dafne Schippers in the 200m. She is the fastest female sprinter in 2018 and the youngest ever to run under 10.9 seconds in the 100m and 21.9 in the 200m.
Announcing his planned retirement earlier this year, Rutherford bemoaned the lack of personalities in British athletics. Speaking to City A.M. last month, Ed Warner, the former chairman of UK Athletics, said the country was missing “star quality” and “competitive edge” in their athletes.
Asher-Smith has those qualities in abundance and more. Ahead of running 10.85 seconds in the 100m on Tuesday, her relaxed nature was evident from a WhatsApp conservation shared by friend and fellow athlete Morgan Lake on Twitter.
The sprinter messaged a WhatsApp group of fellow athletes proclaiming an emergency, only to reveal that said emergency was needing an urgent opinion on a hair scrunchie.
Laura Muir broke away from the field to win the 1500m on Sunday (Source: Getty)
For Britains current batch of stars time is on their side. Alongside front-runner Asher-Smith, Hughes (23), Prescod (22), Muir (25) and Johnson-Thompson (25) all have their prime years to come, in theory.
But despite the well-founded sense of optimism, a word of caution: we have been here before. Four years ago, Britain left Zurich with a similar best ever haul as names like Adam Gemili, James Dasaolu and Jodie Williams offered hope for the future. The following World Championships in 2015 was a coming back down to earth moment.
Athletics is a difficult sport. Form and fitness come and go. Predictions are hard to make. The results at the European Championships are encouraging, but far from a certain indicator of whats to come.
Schippers summed up the collective thinking when assessing Asher-Smiths performance after the womens 200m final on Saturday. “She is running really good times but next year is a different year,” she said. “For a lot of people this is an off year, so in 2019 well see how it goes.”