Positive headlines have been few and far between in the world of athletics this summer but one of Britain’s brightest young stars and graduates of the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) will be hoping to correct that at the IAAF World Athletics Championships this week.
Nineteen year-old Dina Asher-Smith lines up in the heats of the 200m in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon with every chance of progressing to the semi-finals and going on to enter the record books as Britain’s first female sprint medallist since Kathy Cook 32 years ago.
A precocious talent since the age of 13, Dina’s journey, like many other athletes making their name in recent years, has been supported along the way by TASS.
The scheme, which was established in 2003 and up until 2014 was funded by UK Sport, complements the work already being done by Sport England to support talented young athletes.
Ensuring those with podium dreams receive the best possible coaching and support, £24 million of investment over the last 11 years has helped a number of athletes successfully balance the demands of employment and academic life with those of being a medal-winning hopeful.
After scooping her first international title at the Commonwealth Junior Games four years ago, Dina – pictured above competing for her club Blackheath and Bromley AC in 2010 (credit: Mark Shearman) – was singled out as a star of the future and nominated for TASS by UK Athletics Development Manager, Jo Jennings.
“I didn’t know much about the programme at the time or the support TASS provides,” says Dina. “But it was Jo that nominated me and to be selected was such a pleasant surprise and something I’m really grateful for.”
Further proof of the positive impact of the TASS scheme has been in the medal-winning exploits of its athletes and alumni.
Nearly a quarter of the 200 TASS athletes and alumni that competed at London 2012 came away with silverware, including 15 gold, while 63 current and former TASS athletes celebrated medal success at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The current crop of Sport England-funded athletes, including sprinter Sabrina Bakare, national kayaker Joseph Beevers and Paralympic swimmer Jack Bridges could well be the stars of Rio 2016 and beyond.
Every little helps
Typically each athlete has access to just over £3,000 of core services. Hardly a jaw-dropping sum but as Dina explains, it’s the accumulation of all the little things that take the stress out of competing and help an athlete go a long way.
“TASS support helped me with my strength and conditioning, which, as an athlete, is so important so I can try and stay injury-free.
“The funding has also helped with things like nutrition and track fees, buying kit and other simple things that are taken for granted like petrol for travelling to races.
“I also went to the Houses of Parliament and met some really cool people, which I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. It’s hard to put into words the impact of the support and how grateful I am.”
The success of TASS has seen the scheme nominated for numerous awards, including this year’s National Lottery Sports Awards.
Dina’s performances have provided a shining light in a summer of discontent for athletics. And with Sport England's TASS continuing to support talented young athletes across a range of sports and disciplines, success on the global stage for Asher-Smith this week would provide another positive headline to add to her growing compilation – and help to inspire the current crop of budding young TASS hopefuls too.