In track and field, it rarely pays to make assumptions based on early season results. This time last year, Dina Asher-Smith beat the best runners in the world to triumph in her first Diamond League race of the season and found herself injured in the Olympics.
Still, even she didn’t feel the need to hide her disappointment at only finishing third in her first international race of the year on Friday night.
Back when Asher-Smith was struggling with injury in 2021, Jamaican Shericka Jackson and American Gabby Thomas ran faster over 200 meters than the reigning world champion ever did, and the pair left it in their wake at the Doha Diamond League.
Despite a bright start, meaning she led into the turn, Asher-Smith faded as the race progressed and soon found herself staring down her rivals – who both won Olympic medals in his absence last summer – walking away.
Aided by a tailwind of 1.3m/s, Thomas, an Olympic bronze medalist in the 200m, won in 21.98 seconds, followed by Olympic bronze medalist in the 100m Jackson in 22.07 seconds. Asher-Smith was behind in 22.37 seconds.
“It was ok. I feel like I’m in better shape than I was then, so I’m a little disappointed,” Asher-Smith said. “But at the same time, it’s the first race, so I have others under my belt.
“I’m in good shape this year. Every once in a while it takes me a while to warm up. So, it’s all right. »
The scale of the task facing Asher-Smith if she is to retain her world title in July is obvious. When she won that gold in 2019, becoming the first British woman to win a world sprint title, there were no notable rivals in the running. Still, his winning time of 21.88 seconds would have been enough for gold in 13 out of 17 World Championships.
His problem now is that five women, including Thomas and Jackson, have gone faster than last season. Namibian teenager Christine Mboma, who won Olympic silver, was due to line up in Friday night’s race but pulled out with injury, while two-time Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah clocked a remarkable time of 21 .53 seconds to triumph in Tokyo.
It’s unclear if Asher-Smith can improve that much. Ahead of the race, she dwelt on the pandemic and last year’s injury prevented her from ‘showing the work’ she has done since 2019 and she remained upbeat after the race when quizzed on his ambitions for the year: “I want to win the world championship, of course.