For a young lady with so much talent, Dina-Asher Smith has got to be one of the most humble young athletes you could meet. Talking about finish third with team GB at the 4 x 100m relay at the World Champs in Moscow, Dina said, ‘I didn’t think bronze was that much of a big deal!’ I nearly fell off my chair. Team this with winning gold at the World Junior Championships this year and breaking the British Junior record in 100m and 200m, Dina is at the top of her game, yet taking every medal, quite literally in her stride. Refusing to give up her studies for her athletics, Dina is managing to juggle a full-time degree with life on the track, telling us that after all, ‘she’s just a normal student’. Here, Dina reveals her level-headed approach to her athletics as Junior World Champion and her secrets on everything from fitting running into a busy schedule to smashing a PB on race day.
At what age did you start running and at what age did you start competing at athletics?
When I was little I did all sports but I took up athletics properly when I was about thirteen – fourteen. It was only when I came back from Moscow in 2013 after winning bronze on the GB relay team that I kinda’ realised I should think about my athletics more seriously – or at least think about tailoring my life plan around my athletics.
But at age thirteen you set the world age thirteen best for 300m; at this point, did you not recognise just how talented you were?
Not really! I’ve just taken everything as it comes. I wasn’t even meant to be running 300m at that point but my coach was like ,’you should give it a go’ and I did!
At what point then did you begin to tailor your life choices around your athletics?
Well, when I got back from Moscow in August 2013 everything happened all at once. I’d won gold at the European Junior Championships in Rieti in July and then bronze with the GB relay team in August but I didn’t think bronze was that much of a big deal! Then, I was nominated for BBC Young Sports Personality on the back of that and realised that yes, perhaps it was. So at that point, I knew I needed to tailor my life plan around my athletics if I really want to pursue it seriously as a professional.
This was really hard for me though; throughout my GCSEs I had always wanted to go to Cambridge – that was my goal. But I knew that if I went off to Cambridge or Durham or Oxford and lived away from home that would be the end of my athletics. So I didn’t even apply – I just didn’t want to put that temptation in front of me had I got an interview.
By going to Kings College, I can still live at home and carry on with my athletics whilst studying for my degree. I would never have missed out on university – athletics is such an unpredictable sport, you could get an injury tomorrow and that would be it! I would never put all of my eggs in one basket so to speak.
Balancing the pressures of academia and athletics must be pretty tough. On the day you were to find out your A-level results you were qualifying for the women’s 200m final at the European Championships. And not only making the final, you managed to smash a PB and break the British Junior 200m record! How did you manage to perform under so much pressure?
Do you know what? It was having so much going on that kept me so cool! If I was to think about my results, I wouldn’t have been concentrating enough on the race and thinking about the race too much would only have made me anxious so I decided not to worry too much about either. And I slept so well the night before for it! I remember my friends saying to me that they were so nervous the night before results day they couldn’t sleep and I just thought, well I’ve had a great sleep!
Did you find out your results before the qualifier?
Yeh! On the bus on the way to the Letzigrund Stadium I remember trying my best to login to UCAS on my phone but it wouldn’t work as I had no 3G. So, I gave my mum my logins and she just text back saying ‘Yipee!’ I was on such a high after, it completely spurred me on for the race.
How did you manage to balance studying for your A-levels with your training?
I’m not going to lie it was stressful. All the early season comps had started so it was extremely tiring training hard and then coming back home to study after. It pretty much went like this: train, come home, shower, eat, study – every day. But I just kept thinking, ‘it’s only for a short time – keep going!’ I was really organised and I made plans for my studies and my training and made sure I stuck to them.
You’re now studying history at Kings College London. How have you found your first term at university and how have you managed to balance this with your athletics?
I’ve actually just handed in my last essay of the semester! I’ve really loved it, it’s so much fun and I’ve met some great people. The university feels really personal too. I seem to be doing ok at my essays and my training is going well too! I’m living at home, which allows me to fit both my studies and my training in which is good. Obviously, I don’t go out partying like the majority of first years. I’ve made so many decisions to take my athletics seriously and attending Kings College was part of that decision – I wouldn’t want to ruin that now.
Has it been hard trying to lead a ‘normal’ university life as a junior athletics champion?
Not really. I’ve made some great friends and half of them didn’t realise I was even an athlete. They were like ‘Dina why have you got a blue tick after your name on Twitter?’
If you could give our running community any advice on smashing a PB from your experiences as a sprinter what would it be?
If you want to smash a PB you have to be on your A-game. And if you’ve been working hard to perfect every aspect of your performance from your pacing to technique just believe in yourself that you will perform.
How about race day nerves?
Again, I would just say have faith in yourself. Honestly, if you’ve done all of the hard work and put in all of the training you possibly can, you just have to believe you can do it. You’ve just got to think, I’ve done all of the hard work now it’s time to do it.
Obviously, your diet as a sprinter will be very strict and specific but what nutritional advice would you give to runners to keep up their performance on track?
My theory with food is that if you can’t get your head around how it’s been made – stay away. Like sausages for example; how on earth do they make them? I recommend really fresh, natural foods – lots of fresh fruit and veg.
On your cheat days are there any foods you like to treat yourself to?
It’s actually really hard being on such a strict diet as an athlete because I’m such a foodie! I love food! My favourite food ever is pizza! It has actually just been my birthday so I treated myself to BBQ pizza and sticky toffee pudding – it was amazing! I love sticky toffee pudding and I love cake. I see food as a bit of a reward so I try and whip up healthy natural recipes as a treat for after my training.
Sainsbury’s is a proud partner of British Athletics. Sainsbury’s partnership with British Athletics reflects its wider commitment to inspiring healthy lifestyles for all, and complements grassroots campaigns such as Active Kids and the Sainsbury’s School Games. www.sainsburys.co.uk