On a wild and blustery evening at the national championships in Manchester, the established pecking order of British sprinting was blown spectacularly off kilter as Dina Asher‑Smith suffered a shock 100m defeat and Jeremiah Azu, an unheralded but hugely talented 21-year-old, stormed to victory in 9.90sec in the men’s race.
Asher-Smith has dominated British female sprinting for most of the last decade. But she had no answer when her long-time teammate Darryl Neita powered past her at halfway to win in a wind-assisted 10.80.
“I’m annoyed because I’d rather win,” admitted Asher-Smith, who was second in 10.87. “Fuming because I don’t like losing. But I said to her face that I’m very happy for her. She’s worked really hard and improved so much over the years.”
At least there was a silver lining for Asher-Smith. This time last year she injured her hamstring at these UK trials, robbing her of a chance to win Olympic 100m or 200m titles, so she was happy to leave the track healthy given the conditions.
“It was so cold at times,” she said. “Last time I was here, I was feeling something and had to slow down. The most important thing is to be in one piece – I have one more race next week – heading to the champs.”
Neita said making the Olympic final in Tokyo had given her the confidence to kick on this season. “I always knew I could do it,” she said. “And it is a great time, even though it is with wind, and to be British champion is wonderful. I do really believe there is no limit for me.”
However the crowd were left even more breathless by the men’s final as Azu ran an electric 9.90 to take down the reigning European champion, Zharnel Hughes, and the pre-race favourite, Rhys Prescod, who ran a sub-10 into a headwind last month.
“All year I’ve been saying it,” said Azu. “I knew I was going to do it, but I still can’t believe it.”
“I had it on my lockscreen on my phone since last year: 2022 British champion, and to stand here and say it I’m so grateful. It’s just the beginning, I’m 21 and I’m looking to change sprinting in Britain forever.”
Sadly the raging tailwind in both races – 3.8m/s for the women and 2.5m/s for the men – was above the legal limit of 2.0m/s and so the times will not qualify for personal bests or national records.
It also has a knock-on effect for Azu, whose legal personal best of 10.16, is outside the qualifying standard for the world championships. As a result he is likely to run in only the 4x100m relay team in Eugene.
Prescod, who has had an epiphany since preparing for these championships last year by bingeing on fast food from Deliveroo and enjoying epic Call of Duty sessions, was second in 9.94, while Hughes was third in 9.97.
The swirling wind made for far trickier conditions in the middle distance events but it did not stop the men’s 1500m living up to its billing as four world-class athletes went head-to-head in the final 200m for the three world championship places. In the end it was Tokyo Olympic finalist Jake Wightman who proved the strongest, winning in 3min 40.26sec. But just four-tenths of a second separated the three men behind him, with Neil Gourlay taking second, Josh Kerr – the Tokyo bronze medallist – third, and Jake Heyward, despite a desperate dive for the line, ending up fourth.
Wightman said: “It probably looked pretty tasty for the crowd at the bell, I knew Neil had run a fast 800 just recently, so I knew it was going to be a quick finish. I’m just so pleased to get it done and now I can look forward to Oregon. That’s the main aim ticked off.”
It was a different story in the women’s 1500m final as Laura Muir kicked hard with 500m left to establish a 40m lead before winning in 4:21.91, five seconds clear of Melissa Courtney-Bryant. “It was all about coming through today and getting that world’s place and I’m happy I’ve done that,” said Muir, the Olympic silver medallist. “It’s my first British title in the 1500m since 2016 so I’m happy to get that back.”
There was a surprise in the men’s 110m hurdles as the former world indoor champion Andy Pozzi could only come fourth in 13:44, in a race won by the 22-year-old Tade Ojora in 13.27, with 21-year-old Joshua Zeller second in 13.31.
There were no such dramas in the men’s 400m, where Matt Hudson-Smith again advertised his world championships medal prospects by winning in 44.92 – a time made all the more impressive given the conditions.
In the men’s decathlon, Elliot Thompson – son of Daley Thompson – won his first British title with 7,197 points, 46 years after his dad’s first national championships.