Dina Asher-Smith broke down as she revealed how her Olympic dreams were shattered by a hamstring tear she kept hidden from the world and the hard work it took to make it back to the start line in Tokyo.
While the Jamaican Elaine Thompson-Herah powered home to defend her 100m Olympic title in a stunning 10.61sec – an Olympic record – Asher-Smith was explaining how only a select few had known about her injury and an extended visit to the controversial German doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt.
“I was in the shape of my life,” said Asher-Smith, who was knocked out in the semi-finals after running 11.05. “I can say that with my hand on heart: six weeks ago, I was very confident I was going to win this.
“I knew that every part of my race, my start and my transition, and my finish was better than some of the fastest women in the world. But when you get a hurdle like that, suddenly everything rejigs. I had the low of being told: ‘It’s impossible for you to even be here.’”
The 25-year-old said she had been sprinting for only 10 days before racing here and would pull out of Sunday’s 200m heats as a precaution. However, she promised to be back to help the 4x100m relay team at the end of the week.
“I tore it pretty bad,” said Asher-Smith. “I was initially told in Manchester that it was a rupture, I would require surgery and it would take three to four months to get back. So it’s been a lot to deal with. Because, quite frankly, they said I just can’t go to Tokyo.
“But I thankfully got a second opinion and it was a slight misdiagnosis. Even though there was still quite a major tear, it wasn’t a rupture, my hamstring was still attached. So we turned over every single stone to make sure that I could stand on the line.”
In the past Müller-Wohlfahrt has used unconventional techniques such as injecting calves’ blood, honey and extracts from the crests of cockerels into his patients but Asher-Smith said her treatment had focused on extensive physio and rehab exercises. “I decided to go to the best sports doctors in the world in Germany to get an opinion on what kind of surgery I should have, whether there was some hamstring left or whether I should have a plastic or metal attachment,” she said.
“I couldn’t get into the country at first, even though I was allowed with medical exemption. I was in floods of tears at Heathrow saying: ‘I’ve got to get through.’
“I had a call from the doctor in Germany saying: ‘I’ve looked at your scans and you need to get here because while you have torn it I don’t think it’s a rupture and if we get on it and really push there’s a chance you could be on the line in Tokyo.’ I started crying and called the selectors saying: ‘Select me, select me if there’s a chance.’”
Asher-Smith said she had been on crutches and had to learn to extend the hamstring fully and walk, jog and run again. “But because of having three weeks off running it was ‘fingers crossed, hope for the best’,” she said.
Asher-Smith said the injury had happened 40m into the final of the British 100m trials, where she still ran 10.97.
“I am so disappointed not to make the final. It’s everything I have trained for for the last two years. But the last two weeks of my life have been absolutely insane. But I am so proud to come out here and run 11.07 [in the heats] off a few weeks’ training.
“The easiest thing would have been to turn around and say: ‘I’m not going to get on the plane.’ That would have saved my pride, it would have saved everything.
“But I’m an incredibly talented sprinter and I know what kind of calibre of athlete I am. I’ve been dreaming …”
At that point Asher-Smith broke down in tears, before saying: “I’ve been dreaming about this for so long. Unless I couldn’t stand, or do anything on that leg, it wasn’t an option for me to give up because this is my life.”