On a night billed as a dress-rehearsal for the women’s 100m Olympic final in Tokyo, Dina Asher-Smith proved a compelling starring act. In brutal and biting conditions more akin to winter than Whitsun, she powered home to leave a string of top-quality sprinters flailing in her slipstream.
Asher-Smith had promised that she was stronger than ever after working hard during the pandemic, and she proved as good as her word as she came through in 11.35sec. To the casual observer, that time may have seemed nothing special – it is nearly half a second outside her British record. But given it was into driving rain and a -3.1 m/s headwind, it was quietly spectacular.
Just as notably, it also laid down a significant marker against the young American sensation Sha’Carri Richardson, unbeaten for two years but only second in 11.44 – as well as the world 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, fourth in 11.51.
“I was really happy to start my 100m season with a win,” said Asher-Smith. “It was far from ideal conditions. When you go to a Diamond League event, the most important thing is to run a good race plan, keep a good head.
Asked about facing a field that included four women who have run under 11 seconds in 2021, Asher-Smith added: “It is essential to race the best. The only way to get race fit is to race the best in the world. It’s these type of races you want to be in. I am in good shape. I will be looking to get more races before the Olympic trials.”
Richardson’s scalp was particularly significant. The American has been burning up tracks throughout the spring, including a stunning 10.72sec for 100m in Florida, the sixth-fastest in history. But Asher-Smith – and the Gateshead weather – proved a step too far.
However Richardson refused to blame the weather for her defeat, saying: “I already know where my faults are. I knew what the weather was like in all eight lanes. Everybody had the exact same thing.”
She added: “I know what I have to work on and just want to show the world and the women in my sport that I’m here to stay. I want to show them that even though this is my first year doing this, I don’t just want to exist, I’m a competitor.”
There is something else worth remembering too. In 1988 the American Florence Griffith Joyner also raced in Gateshead before winning gold at the Seoul Olympics, running a modest 11.54 sec into a -2.0 m/s wind. Richardson and Asher-Smith both went faster into a wind far stronger. The rematch in Tokyo will be fascinating, thrilling – and will take place in conditions around 40F hotter.
There was a second British win of the night as Laura Muir eased away from a modest field to easily take the 1500m in 4:03:73, while Cindy Sember added a third home victory in the 100m hurdles in 13.28sec. “I am very pleased with that,” said Simber. “I don’t think I have ever run in that much wind. It really could have been a lot worse.”
Elsewhere the first Diamond League meeting of the 2021 season proved not to be a night for fast times or heroes. For most athletes coming away without a niggle counted as a good result, especially with the Olympics just two months away. As the Jamaican Stephenie Ann McPherson put it after coming second to Ellis Kendall in the women’s 400m: “It wasn’t good conditions to run in, I am grateful to come out here and finish injury-free.”
Everywhere the weather was turning superstars into mere mortals. Mondo Duplantis, the pole vault world record-holder, has cleared 6.18m. Here he could only manage 5.55m. But to his great credit, instead of heading indoors he wrapped up and took to holding an umbrella for his rival Sam Kendricks as he prepared to take his turn. “I’m OK, I’m healthy, that’s the main thing,” admitted Duplantis afterwards.
It was so cold that Mariya Lasitskene, the Russian world high jump champion, started her competition wearing a hat, gloves, and full length tights. Usually she floats serenely over two metres. Here she bowed out in fourth after failing three times at 1.91m. Ahead of her was Britain’s Emily Borthwick, who cleared a PB of 1.91, to finish second behind Kamila Licwinko of Poland.
The Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen coped better than most with the inclement conditions as he won the men’s 1500m in a season’s best 3:36:27, but even he admitted it had been a struggle.
“This is normal weather back in the west coast of Norway,” he said. “But it’s really tricky to run fast in these conditions, if you get a sudden gust of wind then everything is ruined.”