Athletics

International stars ready for Müller Grand Prix Birmingham

Dina Asher-Smith (GBR), Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce (JAM), Andre De Grasse (CAN), Nafissatou Thiam (BEL), Kendra Harrison (USA) and Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GBR) all on media duty today.
Fraser-Pryce praises welcoming British crowds with British stars Asher-Smith and Johnson-Thompson aiming for strong performances ahead of World Championships.
The penultimate Diamond League meeting before the finals in Zurich and Brussels comes to Birmingham for the Müller Grand Prix Birmingham and with it, some of the biggest stars in the world.
Both her and the double Olympic Games & seven-time IAAF World Championship medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (JAM) who sat beside her acknowledged the strength of the women’s sprint events as well as the home crowd for Brits and non-Brits.
Asher-Smith has stated her respect for her Jamaican competitor, who is one of the most decorated sprinters ever and also holds the stadium as a place where she has run some of her best times in the past.
She said: “It’s something I’ve seen across the Diamond League this year. We’re at a time where there are so many top female sprinters running quickly and great to get as many as you can racing at the one time and tomorrow is no different.
“I’m definitely proud that they don’t only cheer home athletes, but the others don’t get the feeling that I get when I’m away from home. The British crowd always cheer and clap everyone regardless of where they’re from and I know a lot of athletes notice that.
“Shelly-Ann knows how to race and it’s great to race such a decorated athlete as well as people who might not have the same medal cabinet as her but can run the same kind of times.
“I’ve got great memories racing at the Alexander Stadium. I shocked myself the first time I raced a Diamond League at home when I raced Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh. I remember running that well that afterwards I was sick! I literally gave everything I had.”
Fraser-Pryce has  returned to form following the birth of her son two years ago. Now back at the top of women’s sprinting, she looks forward to racing in the stadium, reiterating comments made by Asher-Smith.
Fraser-Pryce said: “It’s hard when he [her son] doesn’t want to let go, but I know it’s a sacrifice that I have to make. I know in the long run he’ll understand. Competing as a mum is a boost for me. I’m more mentally tough and a lot stronger than I used to be.
“Last time I competed here was probably five years ago and I heard the stadium is coming down, so it’s good to get one more in before it closes.
“It’s definitely like a World Championships final field. When you have a field that has female athletes running so fast anything can happen, that can translate to a good time. I relish those opportunities to run with people who will bring the heat. This is practice for Doha, so mimicking everything you do in your race.
“The British crowd love track and field and the fans are in tune to what’s going on. That makes you feel good as an athlete – they’re very similar to a Jamaican crowd.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Bertrand Valcin; Liverpool Harriers) goes head-to-head in the women’s long jump, taking on the individual event alongside heptathlon rival and Olympic & IAAF world champion Nafissatou Thiam (BEL), the pair are split by just 1cm this year.
Speaking about her new life in France as well as her competitive rivalry with Thiam and the future of multi-events on the Diamond League circuit.
Johnson-Thompson said: “The best thing about being in Montpellier is how calming it is. The south of France has a really nice way of life, but the hardest thing is learning the language. Being scouse, it’s very hard to tackle the French language.
“It’s nice being alongside Nafi as she is a really strong competitor and the heptathlon is what we want to do best in, so we test each other. Win or lose it’s about Doha in six weeks’ time.”
On the subject of a multi-event Diamond League meeting, she added: “I would love to see that happen. I would love to be part of a Diamond League event where I could do multi events, preferably like a jump, a run and a jump! But if we need one of each my ultimate would probably be long jump, 200m and javelin.”
Thiam again echoed the thoughts of KJT on friendly competition, while underlining that she will not get carried away with the competition in Birmingham.
Thiam said: “To win, I know I will have to jump seven metres, but I am just coming for myself and to stand and see what I need to work on.
“It’s great that Katarina is there because we know each other and are used to competing against each other. But it’s a long jump competition so we’ll just see where I am, and we’ve still got Doha to look forward to.
“The heptathlon is really friendly, but it is two days of competition so if you’re aggressive it would be a very long to two days! It is sport, so it is competitive, but we get on, so we appreciate each other and have fun together.”
100m hurdles World record holder Kendra Harrison (USA) will have an exciting battle with Danielle Williams (JAM) as she returns to the city where she won World Indoor Championship gold last year and the country where she broke the world record three years ago.
Harrison said: “I had a great time here last year. Just to go and get a world title it was definitely a confidence boost for myself. Each round I felt like I got better and better and better.
“It’s a really important meet as this is a world final field. Coming out here and competing against these girls and doing the best I can is really going to help me for Doha. The better the competition, the more I know I have to rise to the occasion.”
Meanwhile, Canadian sprint sensation Andre De Grasse (CAN) feels he has returned to the shape that made him a three-time Olympic medallist in 2016. He heads into the men’s 100m as one of the favourites.
He is one of five members of the field to have gone under 10-seconds this season and hopes that be can continue his good form at the Müller Grand Prix Birmingham, using the meet as useful preparation ahead of the World Championships in Doha.
De Grasse said: “I’m happy to be back here. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been here but I’m looking forward to competing at the Alexander Stadium.
“I competed last time here in 2016 over 200m and won with a season’s best. It was a good competition to prepare myself for the Rio Olympics and it’s a good stepping stone again ahead of the World Championships.
“It’s going to be incredible. The Müller Grand Prix Birmingham always brings a good competition. This is probably going to be the field that will make up the semi-finals and finals in Doha. It’s good to get two rounds in the 100m so that’ll help me prepare for the situation of having semi-finals and finals in Doha.”

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