News Update


World Athletics Championships: Dina Asher-Smith and her relay teammates launched a medal-winning era in Moscow while they were just teenagers.

Never one to hold back, Charles van Commenee, the head coach of UK Athletics at the time, spoke his mind in the blunt way that made him famous.

The Dutchman stated, “This was an accident waiting to happen,” in June 2012.

I’m not really surprised; in fact, I quit sponsoring the program two years ago because of this.

His ire was directed at the despised British women’s 4x100m team, who had just been disqualified from the 2012 European Championships heats due to lane infraction. They dropped to 17th in the world rankings as a result of the error.

Only the top 16 would receive a spot in the next London Olympics, meaning there would be no women’s sprint relay team for the home nation to support.

Obviously, there needs to be a comprehensive assessment of women’s sprints, sprints in general, and the 100-meter event in particular.

“Most of the time, improving conditions require starting at the worst possible place. At times, it’s necessary to start at the bottom before raising the stakes.

brief grey presentation line
A year later, the British women’s 4x100m team won an incredible bronze at the Moscow 2013 World Championships without Van Commenee, who had quit after falling short of his own medal goal at those London Games.

They unexpectedly became one of the fastest teams in the world, 29 years after their previous appearance on the world podium and with the shame of their embarrassing Olympic absence still fresh in their minds. As a result, the greatest prosperous period in their history unexpectedly began.

Medals have become so commonplace over the past ten years that Britain’s fastest woman failing to place on the world podium is now considered a failure.

The nation has discovered its leading lady in Dina Asher-Smith, who won Britain’s first individual global sprint medal in 36 years at the 2019 Doha Olympics. Eight medals from the Olympics and the world have now been won by her.

What has changed, then?

How did British women’s sprinters move from laughingstocks to medal favorites as they aim for more podium finishes at this month’s World Championships in Budapest?

I’m more powerful and quick than I was in 2019 – Asher-Smith
How to watch BBC Sport’s Budapest 2023
Crossing his arms in a stance, Charles van Commenee was chosen as the team’s head coach to guide Great Britain’s participants at the London 2012 Olympics.
The disgrace came before the glory.

Britain has never been known as a dominant force in women’s sprinting, but it has occasionally experienced success over the years, as evidenced by Dorothy Manley and Audrey Williamson’s two individual silver medals at the 1948 Olympics, Dorothy Hyman’s brilliant 100-meter and 200-meter double at the 1960 Olympics, and a brief run of four British Olympic and world medals in the early 1980s.

But by the time London 2012 rolled along, those times had long since passed.

Van Commenee had taken dramatic measures two years prior due to her decades-long inability to win any kind of world women’s sprint medal, whether it be in a relay or individual event.

The head coach had eviscerated the team in the lobby of the team’s hotel in Barcelona, within earshot of a nearby group of media questioning Jessica Ennis-Hill, after witnessing Britain’s 4x100m ladies crash out in the first round of the 2010 European Championships.

He then told the journalists, “The women – those changeovers were diabolical.” The errors made by schoolgirls are unforgivable. There will be repercussions.

He promptly stopped supporting the women’s relay program, as expected, and ignored them.

It was a contentious choice.

After Hayley Mills’ lane violation cost Britain their home Olympic spot two years later, she criticized Van Commenee and UK Athletics for failing to provide the team with enough racing opportunities during the prior qualification cycle.

After that crucial race, Mills stated, “Qualification should have been done and dusted way before this weekend.” “I am aware that today was my fault, but people’s failure to perform their duties led to people not attending the Olympics.

“I will accept full responsibility for our failure to advance to the European final, but I won’t accept responsibility for the missed opportunities over the past two years.”

In actuality, the athletes had given up on themselves because the hierarchy didn’t believe in them.

An exchange of batons between Ashleigh Nelson and Hayley Jones
Ashleigh Nelson and Hayley Mills of Great Britain (center, left and right) were a part of the team that did not advance past the preliminary rounds of the 2012 European Championships, missing out on London 2012.
When American coach Rana Reider assumed control of Britain’s sprints and relay setup in early 2013, she was taken aback by the lack of excitement displayed by some of the nation’s top female sprinters.

That year, he stated, “We had a relay meeting with all the ladies in Loughborough. Only 20 of the 40 persons we invited came up. It greatly surprised me.

The relay team that won the bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships included Annabelle Lewis, who recalls the tension that existed at the time.

She explained, “Before I joined the group, I felt that individuals just picked and chose what they wanted to do inside the relay and when they wanted to do it.

“When Rana came over, he established an attitude where being a member of the relay team was a privilege, and you had to act in accordance with that status.

He organized weekends where everyone gathered to participate in the relay and had to show they belonged on the squad.

The newly established sense of solidarity, according to fellow 2013 relay bronze medalist Ashleigh Nelson, was essential.

It was sad when we didn’t make the Olympics, she remarked.

“When Rana Reider arrived, he simply stated that, regardless of how quickly you run, you would not make the squad if you don’t show up to relay practice. That altered everyone’s perspective.

“The head of the previous year, Charles van Commenee, was very critical of the women’s sprints, particularly the relay.

“After that, I believe the sentiment was that we just wanted to go out, run well, and avoid being slated,” said the speaker. We wanted to demonstrate that we were deserving of a chance to compete without being disqualified.

In anticipation before the commencement of a relay heat, Dina Asher-Smith beams.
Three weeks prior to the commencement of Moscow 2013, Asher-Smith had won gold in the 200-meter run and the 4×100-meter relay at the European Junior Championships.
Expectations for the disparate group of British underfunded female sprinters at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow were somewhat low considering the turbulence of the years prior.

Asher-Smith, who was only 17 at the time, was forced into the British relay lineup only a few weeks after taking home two gold medals at the European Junior Championships. Lewis had only recently made it to the international level after lowering his 100-meter time for the first time that summer to 11.50 seconds.

Nelson was the only member of the remaining quartet with notable senior international experience when Anyika Onuora withdrew due to an injury she sustained while competing alone in Moscow.

Onuora was replaced on the team by squad member Mills.

When Anyika was hurt, Lewis recalled, “We were like, ‘What the hell do we do now?'” Dina was a very young girl back then. Even though we were all quite inexperienced, we were confident in our ability to collaborate.

“I think being young and inexperienced in this championship environment caused us to just go out there and see what we could do rather than having any expectations,” says the author.

Britain unexpectedly found themselves in silver-medal position at the last changeover in the final after qualifying sixth quickest from the heats. However, Mills was overtaken by the American and French anchor-leg runners as the finish line drew near.

They would have to settle for fourth place.

Any disappointment at missing the podium by such a little margin quickly vanished in light of everything that had gone before. “I couldn’t believe we actually managed to get that place with such a young, inexperienced team,” Lewis remarked.

However, there was still more shocking drama to come. The British team’s staff lodged a protest against silver-medal-winning France following the medal ceremony. The French team was later disqualified for passing the baton outside the allowed area more than two hours after the competition.

Britain was upgraded to the most unlikely of bronze medals in spite of a counter-appeal and the French athletics federation president calling the disqualification “an outrage.”

Nelson remarked, “We were already back in our strange, enormous hotel.” “Rana arrived and informed us late in the evening. We assumed he was joking because he was a jokester. Naturally, we were thrilled to learn that he wasn’t.

The only thing that is upsetting is that we were not given a podium spot. We didn’t receive our medals until the Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham [in February 2014] the following year.

At the Birmingham indoor competition in February 2014, Hayley Jones, Annabelle Lewis, Ashleigh Nelson, and Dina Asher-Smith received their medals belatedly.
Their bronze medal was enough to convince the new UK Athletics management to alter course and reinstate financing for the women’s 4x100m team the following year. Additionally, it led to a notable turn in the tables.

Reider left British Athletics in 2014, but the team’s ascent went unabated. Reider is currently on a year of probation after being accused of misconduct.

The British women’s sprint relay teams placed third at the Olympics in 2016 and 2020, finishing behind the powerful Americans and Jamaicans. They have also won two silver medals in the last four World Championships, narrowly losing out on the gold on the other two times.

The athletes are quick to emphasize the significance of group buy-in, including the impact of UK Athletics lead performance psychologist Jennifer Savage, who began working with the relay program in 2014. While much of the success is the result of hard work at relay camps and a renewed focus on the program, athletes are quick to stress the importance of collective buy-in.

Nelson stated, “Perhaps before people weren’t getting along, but the current group of girls has a shared purpose and pursues it.

It doesn’t matter what you want to accomplish in your specific event since, despite everyone’s distinct goals, we also recognize the value of working as a team.

There wasn’t much faith in relays in the past, according to Bianca Williams, an unutilized reserve on that Moscow 2013 relay team. People began to realize what we were capable of after the Moscow medal.

“We all have great chemistry, and it gets better every year. Relay bonding camps let us truly get to know one another and what we want out of the year.

The collective success has been duplicated in the individual sprints by Asher-Smith, the fastest woman in British history, who has won one 100-meter and two 200-meter world gold. The strength in depth is greater than ever even beyond her, with Daryll Neita leading a group of British competitors in her wake.

Since 2016, there have been records for four of the top five British women’s 100-meter times and four of the top six 200-meter times.

Lewis, a former athlete who is now an athletics coach, says that since the sustained relay success, there has been a fundamental shift in thinking in addition to reaping the benefits of technology developments on and off the track.

“When you succeed as a group, you gain confidence,” she remarked. Everyone now has a chance to learn how to perform well under pressure while surrounded by the top athletes in the world.

Then, you can state with more assurance, “I don’t just want to go for the relay, I want to go for the individual as well.”

Nelson, who was injured and missed the 2023 season, emphasizes the significance of Asher-Smith’s happiness on the international stage and the herd mentality that is racing after her.

Every week they face fast people in the American collegiate system since everyone is so quick. “Because no one from Britain had achieved it, perhaps there was a lack of belief or a perception that there was a ceiling in the UK.

“It just took one or two people to make it to the top for everyone to believe that. We all strive to surpass one another, so perhaps having a rival a little closer to home can help.

At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Imani-Lara Lansiquot, Dina Asher-Smith, Daryll Neita, and Asha Philip celebrate winning bronze (from left to right). Imani-Lara Lansiquot, Dina Asher-Smith, Daryll Neita, and Asha Philip celebrate winning the bronze medal at the Olympics in Tokyo. This is the most recent of Great Britain’s numerous podium finishes in the women’s sprint relay.
Maybe that was all a part of Van Commenee’s grand scheme.

When questioned 11 years ago about why he had eliminated financing for the women’s sprint relay, the Dutchman said it wasn’t a punishment but added that he was “always curious to see how people respond.”

Regardless of Van Commenee’s motivation, Lewis, who, like Mills, would never again represent her country after Moscow 2013, is just grateful to have been a part of something that altered the trajectory of British athletics.

Thank goodness for it, she remarked, because UK Athletics opted to invest more in the women’s sprint program.

Young athletes are becoming more and more interested in following superstars like Dina and Daryll because they are putting their faces out there.

“The more success they experience, the more chance we have of continuing the heritage. If that crucial moment occurred ten years ago, I’m just honored to have been there.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *