It had already been an exciting week for the future of British Athletics, with two of its most highly-rated youngsters, Keely Hodginkson and Max Burgin, continuing their duck-to-water ascensions to the senior ranks with superb 800m wins in Ostrava.
But in an Olympic year, you want your established big guns firing, too, and in what looked, on paper, a dress-rehearsal for the 100m final in Tokyo, Dina Asher-Smith lit up a miserable evening in Gateshead with a superb victory in the season’s opening Diamond League meet on Sunday.
Conditions on the night rendered times largely insignificant - Asher-Smith’s 11.35 represented her slowest time over the distance since 2017 - but the nature of the win was anything but as the 25-year-old put away a field that included world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and, perhaps most importantly, the fastest woman in the world this year, America’s next-big-thing Sha’Carri Richardson, in emphatic fashion.
Having raced just once outdoors so far this year, on the back of a Covid-hit 2020 season in which her only outings came in low-key meets over 75m and 150m in Bromley, this might have been seen as a chance for Asher-Smith to blow away the cobwebs but instead she set out on the road to Tokyo proper with a statement win.
Richardson, by contrast, had run below 10.80 on three occasions already this season - faster than Asher-Smith has ever gone in her career - but the pouring rain and a headwind that exceeded three-metres-per-second hardly provided the ideal environment for the Diamond League debut of a 21-year-old who had so far made her name with fast times on the US circuit, as well as fast-talking in interviews and fast fingers on social media.
Stepping up in class, she came up short, slow out of the blocks and never able to put Asher-Smith - the 200m world champion who she had claimed pre-race to not “know a lot about” - under serious pressure on her way to finishing second in 11.44, with Fraser-Pryce fourth behind Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou.
One emerging US sprinter who did make his mark was Kenneth Bednarek, who continued his excellent early-season form to win the 200m in 20.33, destroying a field that included Canadian pair Andre de Grasse and Aaron Brown, with Britain’s Adam Gemili in sixth.
Elsewhere, on the card there was a comfortable 1500m victory for Laura Muir as she ran away from the field to win by four clear seconds from Morocco’s Rababe Arafi, with Britain’s Katie Snowden in third, while Jakob Ingebrigtsen controlled the men’s equivalent to kick-off his outdoor campaign with victory.
High winds wreaked havoc in the men’s pole vault and robbed those braving the north-east weather of a proper ding-dong in the latest instalment of the friendly rivalry between world champion Sam Kendricks and world record-holder Armand Duplantis. The pair took it in turns to hold umbrellas over one another at the top of their respective run-ups, with the American’s clearance at 5.74m enough to take the victory as Duplantis failed to go beyond 5.55m.
Cindy Sember was the other British winner on the night as she came out on top in the women’s 100m hurdles, while there was a shock in the women’s high jump as the imperious Mariya Lasitskene was beaten by Poland’s Kamila Licwinko.