Dina Asher-Smith is the world class sprinter transcending athletics to become the UK’s next icon in sport and wider culture.
The 24-year-old has already made history as the fastest British woman in history and is the 2019 World Champion over 200 metres. She’s also a two-time nominee for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, with Stormzy announcing her nomination to the world at the end of last year. She’s already carving out a pretty impressive record, but the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer presents Asher-Smith with an opportunity to create her legacy.
Dina will be in the hunt for three gold medals this summer – the 100m, the 200m, and 4 x 100m relay – and success will catapult her into the level of stardom only enjoyed by a select group of British athletes right now like Anthony Joshua and Andy Murray.
We caught up with Dina Asher-Smith at the Nike 2020 Future Forum in New York City and spoke to her about Tokyo, having the support of Dave and Stormzy, and how we can all learn from sport’s approach to mental health.
COMPLEX: You’re fresh off the runway, where you debuted some of Nike’s new innovations ahead of Tokyo 2020. How did it feel?
Dina Asher-Smith: I haven’t actually run in the Viperfly yet but I’m very excited to try it out, it looks amazing and the colours really pop. I have been able to walk around in the new performance kit for the past couple of days though and what’s great about this is that I’m not wearing a sports bra underneath, which is cool because Nike have been able to build that in to the crop top. It might seem like something that’s not very much, but it’s about being streamlined and it’s about being the fastest you can possibly be with the most support...it’s all about marginal gains and when I saw it yesterday I was really impressed. Nike are always thinking one step ahead, which helps me be my best.
We’re pretty much in the final run up to Tokyo 2020 now, we’re only a few months away. What’s your mentality like as we approach the Olympic Games?
It feels good but in all honesty you’ve just gotta keep working hard. The only reason you’re ever in a good position come the championship races is because you continually work hard and you consistently perform well in training. I’m focusing on getting the job done every single day! I’m not doing anything out of the ordinary, I’m just working hard and being the best athlete I can be. That’s all you can ever do.
And how important is it for you to put Great Britain – and London, specifically – on the map when you race at the highest level? You always seem very proud to represent…
It’s essential! We’re a sporting powerhouse, especially in London – it’s a city that’s full of special events and incredible athletes. So many talented sportspeople are from London and others love coming to perform there. Being able to represent my communities around the world with a smile and a cute little British wave is something that I love.
Stormzy announced you as a nominee for BBC Sports Personality of the Year before Christmas, and you also appeared in the video for Dave’s track “Black” last year. What does it mean to know so many cultural icons have your back?
It’s really cool. At first, it kind of took me by surprise because when you’re running, you’re working six days a week – on an athletics track – and it’s very easy to forget who’s watching and the kind of impact you’re making on the world. And that’s not just with amazing people like Dave or Stormzy, but also regular people who stop you on the street to say, ‘well done’. I spend so much time focussing on the little things that it’s easy to miss the big picture, which is how you affect people and their emotions. It’s been great to have the support of people at large, it’s really humbling.
"in sprinting, the margin between success and failure is so slim – it’s a very mental sport."
From a music perspective, what sort of stuff are you listening to right now to get your mind right for race day?
It changes every few weeks but I know what’s up there right now. Jay Z and I share the same birthday, which is super cool, and my birthday present last year was his back catalogue returning to Spotify on December 4th! It was the best day of my life.
And I’m of Caribbean descent – Jamaican-Trinidadian – so there’s always bashment, always soca...I’m suddenly really intro French rap, too! I love it. Paris is such a fun city and even the French athletics team, I hear the stuff they’re listening to and it just sounds fun! My taste is very eclectic.
You’re fresh off the runway today and you’ve modelled bits for Nike’s collabs with Off-White in the past. Are you someone that gets excited by those limited-edition drops?
Style is definitely important to me but as a sportsperson, and a Nike athlete, it makes me very proud to see the brand pushing boundaries in fashion and culture. They continue to take sportswear, and what it means to be a sportswear brand, to new places. When you see their collaborations with people who are artistically driven, it’s a really amazing thing and when they’re able to combine that look with performance wear it’s such a big thing for me – because it makes me look and feel so good.
Nike also made such a big push on sustainability with their 2020 drops. Is it cool for you to see that?
It’s so important. I think in our own way, as humans, we all try to make the world a better place. If brands like Nike are able to do things in a friendlier way for the planet we should all welcome that.
And so much is made about how important it is for athletes to be in the best physical shape they can be – but how much effort are you making to look after your mental wellbeing, too?
Good mental health is really, really important. When you step on to a track you might be in the best shape of your life but unless you’re there mentally, you won’t be able to perform. That’s especially true in sprinting when the margin between success and failure is so slim, it’s a very mental sport. Holistically, as athletes, we’ve always had to be very mindful of where your head's at – because it directly affects your performance. But I think that approach is now impacting society on a wider scale – including with people who don’t do sport – and that’s a really positive thing for the day-to-day health of everyone.