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Meet Dina Asher-Smith: The Fastest Woman in British History

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Photo: via @dinaashersmith.
Dina Asher-Smith isn’t just any 20-year-old history student at King’s College. She’s the 20-year-old history student who’s also the fastest woman in British history. The one who’s heading to Rio next month to represent the United Kingdom in the Games. (Anyone else feeling like a bit of an underachiever right now?)

Having grown up in Bromley, South East London, with parents of Jamaican descent, Dina’s running career started modestly, at her local athletics club aged 13. Medals and gongs steadily rolled in, and in August last year, she set the new British record for the women’s 200m with a startling 22.07 seconds. Now, after months of anticipation, gruelling training, and unparalleled pressure, Dina is off to Rio to join the rest of the world’s best athletes on the track – all on her summer holidays from uni.

Refinery29 were lucky enough to score five minutes with the queen of speed just before she packed her bags for Brazil...

So you’re the fastest woman in British history. That’s some title! Seriously though, how did you get so fast?
I think I got so fast just from training and working hard. Whilst I enjoy competing and I like winning, what I enjoy most is the idea of getting better. In training, if I run a really strong 180m, next time I want to do a great 190m; if I lift 80kg in the gym, next time I want to do 85kg. It’s all about continuous improvement.

Have you always been a runner?
No. I’ve always been sporty but when I was younger I was into hockey, swimming, board diving, and cycling — there was a bit of athletics but not a lot. It wasn’t until I was in secondary school when I had an accident playing hockey and I fractured my foot that I realised it was actually athletics I missed the most when I wasn’t able to do any sport. So, when I came back I put the others on hold and focused on running, deciding that was the one for me.

So who inspires you? On both personal and sporting levels.
Christine Ohuruogu can cover both bases. She is a genuinely lovely lady and an incredibly hard worker. She has achieved everything that an athlete could — all the medals, British records — but she remains completely grounded and down to earth.
Photo: via @dinaashersmith.
Now, you’re heading to Rio... What’s your training looking like from now until then?
I’m so excited for Rio! My training from now until then will be focusing more on my weaknesses; now that I’ve run quite a few races, my coach and I can spot the things that can still be worked on. That said, I will be starting to taper, so we will do less and lighter work in the gym, with everything tailored towards making sure I can run as fast as possible.
Any other big lifestyle changes in the run up to it?
Apart from moving halfway round the world for it, nothing is really going to change. When coming to big championships, the key is keeping things consistent and constant, because if you change too much, your body can physically or mentally freak out which massively affects performance.

Your lifestyle must be very different to your family/ friends’, especially at the moment. Do you still get to see them much?
I do spend a decent amount of time with non-athletes but I sadly don’t get too spend as much time with my friends as I’d like because I am training so much — and when I’m not, I’m recovering and sleeping! I do make a real effort to see my friends when I can though, they are really really important to me.

How are you feeling about running in the heat?
I actually love running in the heat and for a short sprinter like myself, it really helps. It means it takes less time to warm up and the muscles are primed to run fast.
What shoes do you run in?
Always Nike! I race in the Nike Zoom Superfly spikes. They are my favourite shoes ever. So comfy and lightweight. During training, I wear the Nike Zoom Elite 8 or the Pegasus.

For someone just getting into running, do you think it’s better to focus on speed or distance?
It depends where you want to end up. If you have a natural inclination towards speed then train to be a sprinter and enjoy the adrenaline. If you enjoy the steadier, longer distances (which as a sprinter baffles me!) then you can enjoy building up distance and stamina with that. It really depends on the individual.

What’s your get-out-of-bed mantra?
Though I’m inclined to say “just five more minutes in bed”, a more motivational one is that I always try to make sure today is better than yesterday. And that’s all about what I was saying earlier: if yesterday was great, try and make today better.

What goes through your head on the start line?
Normally it’s the last words my coach has said to me, which is usually about relaxation and to make sure I run through the line. I really try to have a clear mind when I’m racing so we keep it simple so that I can properly focus.
There’s a lot of pressure on you, how do you deal with it?
I could be being naïve but I don’t really feel that there is that much pressure on me. Sure, people are hoping I do well but if I don’t, it’s not the be all and end all. I have my own goals and my coach has goals, so whilst it’s nice that people expect great things, at the same time I know what I’m going there to do and if that is different from what everyone else expects then so be it. At the end of the day, I'm the one that has to run the race, I’m the one that has to give a performance, so for me I guess I alleviate pressure by just thinking about my own goals.

How about downtime, what does that look like for you?
It looks like sleeping! Seriously, that is a lot of my downtime! Otherwise, it’s about hanging with my friends, chilling with my boyfriend, and shopping. Normal things, right?

After Rio will you get chance to chill out a bit? Spend some time in Brazil?

Sadly, I don’t think I will get to spend much time relaxing in Brazil because I compete on one of the last days, then we fly out again pretty much straight afterwards. I’m definitely looking to go on holiday before I go back to uni at the end of September though!
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