Team GB’s star-spangled Olympic athletes may no longer be on our television screens on a nightly basis, but that does not mean they should be packed away and forgotten for the next four years. The Mixed Zone is committed to highlighting those Olympic and Paralympic heroines beyond their Rio achievements and will be producing regular updates in our ‘What Happened Next’ series. Here, Dina Asher-Smith and the sprint relay team explain why they hope their bronze medal will inspire girls to take up the sport
Dina Asher-Smith was a box-carrier at the London 2012 Olympic Games. That meant the then sixteen year old stood behind the starting blocks of the superstars of the athletics world and collected their discarded tracksuits and T-shirts. The budding sprinter may have had the best view in the house, but any dreams she had on becoming an Olympian at the time were just that: dreams. Little did she know that she was on the fast-track to becoming the best sprinter Great Britain has produced. And now she has someone picking up her kit.
An Olympiad cycle later, and now aged 20, Asher-Smith helped get the baton round with Asher Philip, Desiree Henry and Daryll Neita, to win Team GB’s first Olympic medal in the 4×100 relay for 32 years. The quartet finished third, behind the United States and Jamaica, in a British record of 41.77 seconds. Asher-Smith also finished fifth in the 200 metres in 22.31 seconds, and she holds the national records for the 100 (10.99, the first British woman under 11 seconds) and 200 (22.07).
Enough of the stats. Asher-Smith now has a prized bronze medal hanging around her neck.
“This medal means so much to me,” she says, “mainly because it’s something I never thought I could achieve. I never thought I would be an Olympic medallist, especially at my first Olympic Games.
“I am so fortunate to have done it with three other amazing, talented girls. And they are such good friends as well. I hope it can inspire people; girls and boys. I was a box-carrier at London. I did do athletics, but I certainly wasn’t Olympic standard. But then four years later, I come home from Rio with an Olympic medal. It’s been a crazy turnaround, but if that can inspire anyone to go down to the track or the pool or the velodrome and see if they like it, and get involved in sport, then that will make me very happy.”
Women’s sprinting is in rude health. The GB sprinting squad have lowered the British record from 42.21 at the 2014 World Championships to become the first quarter to run sub-42 in the Olympic final. So what next? Can they truly challenge the sprint superpowers, like the United States and Jamaica?
A hoarse Philip, nursing the tell-tale signs of the celebrations in Rio, said: “It was always in the back of our minds that we could do it and come back with a medal. But to actually do it was the biggest success for us. Obviously everyone is aiming for gold. But those girls are 10.7 runners – we can only do our best. For us, a British record in the final was the best thing we could have done. We’ve got a lot more to come, but it’s definitely progressing.”
Asher-Smith, who studies history at Kings College London, continued: “We will continue to push boundaries and continue to work harder and gel more as a team. We want to keep breaking national records. We’ve done it four times over the last two years with different combinations, which shows there is a depth of sprinting there now. We all complement each other. Hopefully we can continue to push on.”
Now the team go their separate ways, to reunite with friends and family, or throw themselves back into the rigours of training ahead of the upcoming Diamond League meetings. But winning an Olympic medal in a team sport creates an unspoken, yet tangible bond, and one that will last a lifetime. Asher-Smith admits they will miss each other after their history-making Rio adventure.
“We will,” she says, “especially now we’ve got the bronze medal. This is going to change the rest of our lives. We are always going to have this forever. We will always be Olympic medallists and we are always going to have that bond and those memories. Like Desiree crying! She’ll never escape those tears!”
But it is not just their own lives the women hope to have changed. The Rio Olympics have been another breakthrough moment for women: rower Katherine Grainger became our most decorated Olympian, cyclist Laura Trott became our most successful Olympian, and the GB hockey team won gold for the first time.
Desiree said: “As females, it’s so important. I feel there is a stigma attached to sport, more so than there is for guys. By coming home with a medal, we have shown that girls can do sport and collect Olympic medals as a team. I hope they are inspired by that and get down to their local track like we did.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.