Dina Asher-Smith and Sha’Carri Richardson anticipating a memorable 100m, while Laura Muir, Jakob Ingebrigtsen and Mondo Duplantis are also in a position of strength ahead of Diamond League opener
It’s expected to be wet, it could be a little windy, but the Müller Grand Prix Gateshead is also guaranteed to be eventful. Many of the biggest stars in track and field have descended on the north east of England and five of them spoke with the media ahead of the first meeting on this year’s Wanda Diamond League schedule, which takes place on Sunday (May 23).
The women’s 100m is undoubtedly the most highly anticipated event on the programme as it pits home favourite and world 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith against the athlete of the moment and America’s rapidly rising star Sha’Carri Richardson.
Reigning 100m world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and bronze medallist Marie-Josée Ta Lou will also have a substantial say in the outcome of a race which the Briton expects to be the first in a series of explosive contests between the current cream of the sprinting crop this summer.
“Quite often at the Diamond League we come to these really stacked races and it’s something I’m very much used to,” said Asher-Smith. “If you come to a Diamond League you have to be prepared. There’s so much depth in our category so it’s part and parcel of doing what we do at this level and, honestly, it’s a joy to be part of something that is so competitive and keeps pushing you to put out the best performances you possibly can.
“It’s the beginning of the season, it’s very much the start of what is probably going to be a match-up that we’re going to see replicated throughout the season in a number of different countries. Hopefully we’ll have a really exciting series of races.”
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) May 22, 2021
Asher-Smith, who opened her outdoor season with a 200m victory in Italy earlier this month, could not hide her delight at her return to racing – not just because the pandemic has brought with it so much disruption and limited racing opportunities but also because of the intensity of her recent training schedule.
“I’m looking to transfer everything that I’ve had the time to work on in training,” added the world 100m silver medallist, who has not competed in Gateshead since 2011 when she won the English Schools 200m title in 24.38 as a 15-year-old.
“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.”
The triple European champion has been highly impressed by the performances of Richardson, who clocked a world-leading 10.72 in April and arrives in Gateshead off the back of a comfortable 200m win in Ostrava.
The flamboyant American who broke the U20 100m and 200m world records in 2019 is being touted as the most exciting sprint talent since Usain Bolt and is creating headlines wherever she goes.
“Every time I step on the track I’m going to try to do something that I haven’t done before,” she said. “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.”
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) May 22, 2021
The crowd of 2000 people at the Gateshead International Stadium will be watching intently, and another athlete who can expect their full support is Laura Muir. The European champion will be at the forefront of the women’s 1500m which brings the competition schedule to a close and could well threaten the long-standing stadium record of 4:00.57 set by Chris Cahill back in 1984, depending on the conditions.
Following a solid and uninterrupted block of winter training, however, the British record-holder who is considering an attempt at the 800m/1500m double in Tokyo also wouldn’t rule out the possibility of being able to lower her mark of 3:55.22 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, like Asher-Smith, last competed in Gateshead ten years ago when the then 18-year-old was second in both the 800m B race (2:16.46) and 1500m (4:51.84) at the National Junior League Northern Premier Division.
“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.”
In the men’s 1500m, all eyes will be on Jakob Ingebrigsten as the double European Indoor champion and European record-holder starts his Olympic build-up in earnest. The 20-year-old Norwegian is accustomed to less than ideal conditions and can expect to be challenged by the Australian duo of Ollie Hoare and Stewart McSweyn.
“I’m used to running in the rain and definitely a bit of wind on the west coast [of Norway], but it’s going to be the same for everybody,” he said, while refusing to rule out pursuing a 1500m and 5000m Olympic double. “If I can win as much as possible in a short period of time, I want to do that.”
Another star attraction is Mondo Duplantis. The Swede broke the pole vault record on his last visit to Britain when he soared over 6.18m at the Indoor Grand Prix in Glasgow last year.
He admitted to being a little out of sorts during the recent meeting in Ostrava when he won with a height of 5.90m in his first outdoor meeting of the year. But creating history again is never far from his mind.
“Even if it’s the world record it’s still just my personal best,” he said. “I know because I did it I can do it again, and if I can do it again I can do it even better.
“I try not to think about it as being too high, but to think about it as something I’ve already done. There are always ways to improve.”