An enthralling day two for English athletes in Tokyo 2020 - our report

An enthralling second evening session of the Olympic track and field saw Daryll Neita excel to make the final of the 100m and three English athletes contribute towards a sixth place for Great Britain in the mixed relay.

Neita (Cambridge Harriers; Rana Reider), who had yesterday become only the second British athlete in history to break 11 seconds, this morning qualified for the final in a fastest loser place with 11.00, the second fastest of her career.  Then in a super-quick final, she ran 11.12 for eighth behind Elaine Thompson-Herah, who ran an Olympic record 10.61. Neita, who has reached the semi-finals of the last two World Championships, said:

“I came to these championships wanting to make the final and I did it so that’s a great achievement. The race did not go as I wanted it to and that’s not the position or time that I wanted to run. But there’s always positives to take so that’s what I’m doing.”

As one of GB’s world 4x100m silver medallists in 2017 and 2019, she now switches her attention to the relay. “We know we are podium potential in the relay so we’re coming here to get medals again,” she said. “We have a really strong team and I’m sure we’re going to run very well.”

However, there was earlier heartbreak for Dina Asher-Smith (Blackheath & Bromley; John Blackie). One of Britain’s best hopes for a medal, she missed out on making the final and then revealed the extent of an injury that had cost her three weeks of missed training. The world 200m champion, who ran 11.05 for third in her semi-final, sustained a torn hamstring at the trials and faced a struggle just to make it to the start line in one piece. An emotional Asher-Smith said afterwards she was pulling out of her stronger event, the 200m, to concentrate on the relay. She told BBC Sport:

“I’m so grateful to everybody who worked so I could stand here on the track and race here tonight. Obviously, I was not my normal self, but it has been quite a journey, so I’m really proud. The most frustrating thing is I was in the shape of my life — and I can say that with my hand on my heart.”

The third English athlete in the semis, Asha Philip (Newham & Essex Beagles; Steve Fudge), ran 11.30 for eighth in her race. “I am so disappointed,” said Philip, who now looks forward to helping Britain challenge for a medal in the relay. “I have probably been slower this year, but the fact is that I didn’t execute when I should have, and I know how good I am, and I am not showing my full potential.”

In the first ever mixed 4x400m relay at an Olympics, Britain’s quartet were sixth as England’s Niclas Baker, Emily Diamond and Cameron Chalmers were joined by Scotland’s Nicole Yeargin. Baker (Crawley; Piotr Spas) was timed at 46.2 for his leg from the blocks before Yeargin moved the team up to sixth. Diamond (Bristol & West; Benke Blomqvist) then ran the second quickest split on her leg (50.36) and Chalmers (Guernsey; Matt Elias) finished with a 44.79 to bring the team home in 3:12.07. Diamond reacted: “I think we can be proud of ourselves – we finished sixth in an Olympic Games, first mixed relay, so we’ve made a little bit of history, and I think it sets up the team for the men’s and women’s relays at the end of the week now.” Chalmers added:

“It’s definitely the biggest race I’ve ever been in, and to run on the last leg with these guys at the Olympics is just an amazing experience – something that I’ll definitely keep in my memory forever.”

England will have two English women in the 800m final as Keely Hodgkinson and Alex Bell joined Scotland’s Jemma Reekie among those progressing from the semi-finals. Hodgkinson (Leigh; Trevor Painter) gave a performance proving she will be a medal-contender in the final as she won her heat in 1:59.12. The 19-year-old showed experience beyond her years as she kept her cool when sixth coming into the home straight. Cuba’s Rose-Mary Almanza, the second fastest in the world this year, was among those behind her. Bell (Pudson & Bramley; Andrew Henderson) went through as the fastest of the non-automatic qualifiers. The athlete who was a late replacement for Laura Muir produced an assured performance in third in 1:58.83.

The English male sprinters emulated their female counterparts in qualifying three for the 100m semi-finals. Zharnel Hughes (Shaftesbury Barnet; Glen Mills) produced a season’s best of 10.04 for third in his heat. That was enough to take the final guaranteed spot just ahead of American Trayvon Bromell, the pre-event favourite for gold. CJ Ujah (Enfield & Haringey; Ryan Freckleton) gained the final automatic selection spot in his heat. After running 10.08, the British champion said: “I would have liked the victory but, you know what, I just need to raise the tempo. Safely through and tomorrow is another day. I felt all right, felt relaxed. But sometimes you just need to get reactions sharpened. Training is done, tomorrow is going to be a good day.” Reece Prescod (Enfield & Haringey) set a season’s best of 10.12 for fifth to take a fastest loser place.

In the men’s 800m heats, Elliot Giles (Birchfield; Jon Bigg) responded calmly to a quick pace over the first 600m to qualify automatically in third in 1:44.49. The British No.1 was surprised at the tempo but happy to save his best for the semi-final.

“I was watching the screen and I knew where I was and that there was nobody close to me,” he said afterwards. “But then if I am being honest, I am not sure that I would have caught them at the front because they were going that quick. It took me by surprise a little bit how fast they moved, but I was running to qualify, that was always the main aim.”

Daniel Rowden (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies; Matt Yates) joined his team-mate in the next round with a competent automatic qualification in second in his heat in 1:45.73. After his first race in more than a month, he said: “It was good to get a run out and just feel the racing in my legs. Auto-qualification is always the goal so to tick that off is great. It’s the Olympics, so you’ve got to take every round as it comes, there’s no guarantees or anything like that, so it’s a good confidence booster going into the semis.” However, Oliver Dustin (Border; Graeme Mason) was left feeling “flat” as he went out in his heat in sixth with 1:46.94. Dustin, who has improved by more than three seconds this season, reflected: “I just didn’t have it today, I don’t know – it wasn’t there, but as I say I will go back, reflect, change little things and I’ll be back stronger. It’s only going to make me hungrier and I’m ready to go.”

Hurdling sisters Cindy Sember and Tiffany Porter both progressed safely from their heats. Sember (Woodford Green with Essex Ladies), who placed fourth at the Rio Olympics, acknowledged she did not have her best race but took the fourth guaranteed place in the semi-finals with a time of 13.00. Clubmate Porter was likewise fourth as she clocked 12.85 and she looks forward positively to the next stage. She said:

“It was cool, job done because it was all about qualifying for the next round, which was the objective of today so I was happy with it. I am feeling confident and excited for the next round.”

Meanwhile, further up in distance at the 400m hurdles, the three English athletes had mixed fortunes in their heats. Despite not being happy with her performance, Jessica Turner (Amber Valley & Erewash; Marina Armstrong) was the only one to make it to the semi-finals. After clocking 56.83 for the fourth and final automatic qualification slot, she admitted: “Honestly, it was such a bad race, it was very, very rusty.” Having not run since the trials at the end of June, she added: “I think I’ve got the potential to go to the final if I can run what I have been running this season.” Meghan Beesley (Birchfield Harriers; Benke Blomqvist) was happy to make her first Olympics but disappointed to be seventh in 55.91 – just outside her season’s best. She hinted afterwards her career may be over. “It wasn’t great,” she said. “I am glad that I am done now and that I am an Olympian, and I don’t have to hurdle ever again.”

After being one of the British athletes forced to isolate due to a Covid contact on arrival in Japan, the bad luck continued for Jessie Knight (Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow). She appeared to slip and crash into the first hurdle, thus ending her campaign.

Britain’s only representative in the pole vault, Harry Coppell (Wigan & District; Scott Simpson), is through to the final at his first Olympics. Although he failed at 5.75m, which would have been a season’s best, it was his perfect record up to and including 5.65m which ultimately proved enough for equal 12th.

“Close call at the end! When I was out (at 5.75m), I had accepted it, I thought I was done. But then it was obviously a roller coaster emotionally.”