22nd May 2021


  • Home favourites Dina Asher-Smith and Laura Muir, plus Sha’Carri Richardson, Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Mondo Duplantis ready for action

The star names have arrived in force for the first stop on this season’s Wanda Diamond League programme, the Müller Grand Prix Gateshead, and insist they are ready to shine in front of the British crowd on Sunday (May 23).

The loudest cheers of the 2000-strong audience which will be in attendance at Gateshead International Stadium will be reserved for home favourites Dina Asher-Smith (coach: John Blackie, club: Blackheath & Bromley) and Laura Muir (coach: Andy Young, club: Dundee Hawkhill Harriers), as they race in the 100m and 1500m respectively.

The two have not competed in Gateshead since July 2011, when both were teenagers – the then 15-year-old Asher-Smith winning the English Schools Championships 200m in a time of 24.38, while an 18-year-old Muir was second in both the 800m B race (2:16.46) and 1500m (4:51.84) at the National Junior League Northern Premier Division.

Both return as athletes with significantly loftier goals in mind and are looking to lay down markers as the Tokyo Olympics draw near.

Reigning 200m world champion Asher-Smith forms part of a dazzling 100m line-up which also contains four-time world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and athlete of the moment, USA’s world leader Sha’Carri Richardson, who clocked 10.72 in April and enjoyed a comfortable 200m win at the recent Continental Tour Gold meeting in Ostrava.

The European champion, however, says that Covid disruptions have allowed her time to put in valuable work which she expects to pay dividends during the summer.

“I want to go out there and just put together a fantastic performance,” she told the pre-event press conference. “I’m looking to transfer everything that I’ve had the time to work on in training.

“I’m much, much stronger physically. I can [now] do things that my coach has been hoping I could do for many years. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it [put the training into practice] off the bat but, as with anything as the season progresses, all these things tend to come together at the championships so it’s going to be a very exciting summer.

“It’s only maybe in the past three weeks that I’ve stopped doing over 300 abdominal exercises during a track training session. It’s been an incredibly hard winter, very hard. I’m so excited to be racing because it’s a respite from the very difficult training.”

She will face stiff competition and the 21-year-old Richardson has arrived in Britain to headlines proclaiming her as the most exciting sprint talent since Usain Bolt.

“When I hear things like that, it just shows people are seeing not only potential in me but they see greatness in me that I probably see in myself,” says the World U20 100m and 200m record-holder. “But they’re seeing more of it than I am, if that makes sense.

“I’m human and I’d be lying if I said I don’t get nervous but I don’t let that consume me. I’m confident in my abilities.”

British record-holder Muir is planning to finish the meeting with a flourish in the 1500m contest which will bring the event programme to a close. The rain which is forecast may well play a part in any attempt to break the long-standing stadium record of 4:00.57 but the 28-year-old feels her national mark of 3:55.22 may also come under threat at some stage this season.

“I think I’m in PB shape and if I can beat 3:55 then that would be fantastic,” said Muir, who is considering an attempt at the 800m/1500m double in Tokyo. “I don’t know how many opportunities there will be to race super fast this season but that’s the ball park I’m in at the moment.”

Muir’s position of strength is thanks to a solid and reassuringly uneventful training block. Her build-up to the 2019 World Championships in Doha, where she finished fifth, was hampered by a calf tear but there have been no such injury issues in 2021.

“That was pretty stressful,” recalls Muir, who will be joined in the race by fellow Britons Eilish McColgan (coach: Liz McColgan, club: Dundee Hawkhill Harriers) and Katie Snowden (coach: Daniel Stepney, club: Herne Hill Harriers). “It was a big tear in my calf, so that was really, really hard, but I think that showed me how resilient I was and to come back from that and to be able to run as well as I did off the training I did actually gave me a lot of confidence.

“It’s been very, very good to have a very solid set of training over the winter and I feel a lot fitter at this time this year than I would have this time last year.”

The men’s 1500m contest is headlined by Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who will be joined by the Australian pair of Stewart McSweyn and Ollie Hoare. The Norwegian star was in imperious form at the European Indoor Championships in Torun earlier this year where he won 1500m and 3000m gold, but he is now targeting global domination.

He would not rule out an attempt at an Olympic double of 1500m and 5000m and added: “If I can win as much as possible in a short period of time, I want to do that.”

Another athlete expected to excel in Japan is Mondo Duplantis, whose last appearance on British shores resulted in him setting the pole vault world record of 6.18m at the Müller Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow.

He will be looking to get back over the six-metre barrier, having opened his season with 5.90m in Ostrava, but the Swede who has been vaulting from a very young age will be doing battle with world champion Sam Kendricks and has lost none of youthful enthusiasm for his sport.

“I think these past couple of years have been the most fun I’ve had jumping,” said the 21-year-old, whose father Greg was also a vaulter. “Sometimes when I’m out on the track it just feels like I’m jumping in my backyard when I was seven years old again. I still have a burning passion for it for sure.”

Image Credit: Matthew Quine