James Dasaolu: Sprinter sets sights on Tokyo Olympics after injury comeback

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James Dasaolu is too modest to put it on a business card. But some of his more curious clients get there eventually.

“I’ll generally just say I’m an Olympian and that is kind of it,” he told BBC Sport.

“But sometimes some of them have a Google and say ‘I didn’t realise you were the second-fastest man in British history.”

You could forgive his younger customers for having to put in the research after Dasaolu – part-time personal trainer, part-time professional athlete – has put them through their paces.

He ran his personal best time of 9.91 seconds nearly seven years ago – a time bettered only by former world and Olympic champion Linford Christie’s 9.87.

At that point Dasaolu was rising in stature, almost as fast as he was running. It was his fourth PB of the season and a convincing statement of intent.

A month later he made his first global final. An eighth-place finish at Moscow 2013, in a raggedly run 10.21 seconds, was underwhelming. But, at 25, there would surely be more.

So far, there haven’t.

He beat Christophe Lemaitre to win European gold in 2014 but indifferent form and a sabbatical season to support his family after the arrival of his third child were followed by a career-threatening Achilles injury in 2018.

British Athletics had long since directed their money, and crucially the attached medical cover, elsewhere and motivating amateur keep-fitters was near-impossible with his injury.

Instead Dasaolu’s surgery and rehabilitation was paid for by his friends, both famous and anonymous.

When his father Dapo first set up the crowd-funding page James was sceptical.

“He put it up without me knowing and just told me it was there,” remembered Dasaolu.

“I wasn’t hopeful at all. I said, to be honest, I don’t think these things ever really work.”

Some 356 donors thought otherwise. There are some names you would recognise. Dina Asher-Smith and Adam Gemili were among the athletes to donate. Coaches such as Fuzz Caan and Jonas Dodoo also did. But most were fans, who had heard Dasaolu’s story and wanted to give whatever help a spare £10 or £20 could provide.

The totaliser now stands at just shy of £16,000.

“The support from my colleagues and public has been amazing. I can never thank them enough because really without them, I’d have probably have had to retire,” he added.

Instead, at 32, he is taking the first steps in a comeback few saw coming.

In February, in the Polish city of Torun, he competed for the first time in nearly two and a half years, running in a low-key 60m race.

A couple more outings followed in Berlin before coronavirus tightened its grip on the sporting calendar and left Dasaolu switching his sights, initially to the start of the outdoor season, and then further ahead to an indeterminate point when action will finally start up again.

“It was extremely important,” he says of his return. “Definitely more mentally, just for me to tell myself that my body is fully healed. It held up in competition and there is no greater strain than going out there and racing for real.”

The plan was, having put his Achilles tendon through the rigour of racing, to ramp up the intensity of training.

However, he was thwarted even before sport had been fully locked down. On a visit to the British Athletics National Performance Institute in Loughborough, he found himself excluded from the track.

Dasaolu had intended to do a session with para-athlete Jonnie Peacock but was told that because of the coronavirus outbreak, only funded athletes were allowed to train.

A frustrated tweet on the incident drew sympathy from James Ellington, Christie and Gemili.

“It was deeply frustrating and things were said, but I am over it,” said Dasaolu. “These things happen in sport and you just have to let bygones be bygones. I want to have a good relationship with my federation.”

It is easy to be philosophical when the Loughborough facility was shut to everyone – funded or otherwise – just a few hours later.

Does the delay, and a few more months to re-establish himself as a Team GB contender, play into Dasaolu’s hands?

“I believe I would have been ready to go this year, but the extra time means you can fine-tune. It is what it is, you just have to make the correct adjustments.”

The adjustments for everyone are major at the moment. Fortunately, home workouts are something that Dasaolu has been designing for some time.

“You just have to be creative as possible and use what you have,” he said. “I’m fortunate I have got 50 or 60kg of bar bells, a few dumbbells, I can do some walking lunges, go for a jog, I am fortunate enough that I have a back garden so I can do a lot of work there and get some fresh air. It’s not a track, but everyone in the UK is in the same boat.”

Dasaolu knows he is not sailing solo on his unlikely course towards the rescheduled Games in Tokyo next year though.

“I have always found that you are doing it for your country and your family, because ultimately that is who you represent,” he concluded.

“But that support I have had from people has really motivated me, to keep pushing through when I’ve had a hard session or I’m feeling tired. It’s helped my perseverance and motivation massively to know they are behind me.”

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