After a season drenched in tears and heartbreak, Dina Asher-Smith went toe-to-toe with the greatest women’s sprinter in history – and reminded everyone just what she can do when her body is firing and pain-free.
On a raucous and joyous night in Zurich, a crowd of nearly 30,000 roared Asher-Smith on as she flew out of the blocks and led the double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah for 50m, before the Jamaican found a fifth and sixth gear to power home in 10.65sec – the eighth fastest in history – to add the Diamond League 100m crown to her collection.
However, Asher-Smith’s time of 10.87 was not only just 0.04 off her British record, but also capped a stunning return to form after an injury tore her hamstring and her Olympic dreams apart in late June.
There was also further joy for Britain as Keely Hodgkinson ended her season by adding the 800m Diamond League title to her Tokyo silver medal. But it was Asher-Smith who sported the biggest smile after finally hitting the highest notes again.
“It’s a really, really good day,” said the sprinter. “I was so happy with my 100m. I was looking to go sub-11 seconds and put together a good race so 10.87 is great. But it wasn’t necessarily about times, it’s more about looking forward and setting a positive mindset and positive step for next year.”
Asher-Smith wasn’t quite so impressive in the 200m an hour later, coming third behind the Namibian Christine Mboma in 22.19 sec, but she didn’t appear to mind given her 100m time was her third fastest. And she believes it will help put the disappointments of the year behind her.
“Obviously the Olympics didn’t go the way I wanted but it’s done now,” she said. “I want to go into next year without any of that on my shoulders, and just push forward to make the next three years incredible. After the few months I’ve had, I’m so happy. I’m definitely taking that.”
The Letzigrund is one of the sport’s great spiritual homes and the scene of multiple world records. It was here that Armin Hary became the first man in history to run 100m in 10 seconds. It was also here that the world records in the men’s 800m, 5,000m and 3,000m steeplechase were toppled in a few disbelieving hours in 1997. And here that some felt that Florence Griffith Joyner’s 33-year-old record might finally fall.
It didn’t happen. But Thompson-Herah believes she has unfinished business as far as that is concerned. “This year it was a long season with ups and downs, but next year, the world record is definitely on my mind,” she said.
The Diamond League final is billed as the Olympics in one night, and with 17 gold medallists on show it truly delivered over three hours of extraordinary athletes.
As the winners were paraded around the track afterwards, to the sound of Shirley Bassey’s Diamonds Are Forever, there was a Briton among them in the form of Hodgkinson. Once again she showed the sharpest of racing brains to take the $30,000 first prize and an automatic entry into next year’s World Championships in Eugene.
“To finish the season with a win like that against world-class competition, I couldn’t be happier,” said the 19-year-old, who tracked the leader Natoya Goule before kicking hard off the final straight to win in 1:57.98.
“Now, I am going home, and then straight on a plane to Greece, and I am not going home for 10 days. I don’t want to see a track for those ten days, and I am leaving my running shoes at home.”
However another British medallist in Tokyo, Holly Bradshaw, could only finish fourth with a modest clearance of 4.67m in the pole vault. The event was won by the Russian Anzhelika Sidorova, whose jump of 5.01m was the second highest ever outdoors.
The women’s 1500m, which had been billed as the race of the night, lived up to its billing. For three laps Faith Kipyegon, the Olympic champion, and Sifan Hassan, who won 5,000m and 10,000m gold in Tokyo, tracked each other step by step.
But with 300m to go the race exploded with Kipyegon finding a second wind just before the line to win in 3:58:33, just over two tenths of a second ahead of her great rival. Incredibly the last 300m had been run in 43 seconds.
The men’s 1500m was even closer as Olympic champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen and silver medallist Timothy Cheruiyot once again slugged it out down the home straight before the Kenyan held on to win in 3:31:37 – just 0.08 sec ahead of the Norwegian.