This is part 3 of Stuart Weir’s features on British 100m champion, Darryl Neita and the story of her fantastic season.
Darryl Neita, Part 3
When you talk to Darryl, you are immediately aware of the positivity. There is always an element of disappointment because she wants more and believes she can do more. She talks about heart-breaking moments and the curse of the 1/100th of a second (see separate post) but keeps it in perspective: “Eugene was heartbreaking [missing the 100m final by 1/100th of a second], even though it was a fantastic season”.
I asked her to sum up her season. This was her thoughtful answer: “I feel like in athletics we want something so much and when we achieve it, we are immediately looking for the next thing. But to round off the season in Zurich [Diamond League Final], I was feeling more gratitude than anything. I’d made such a big move, changing coaches – a spur-of-a-moment decision – and now I’m so happy with the coach I have and the group that I’ve joined.
“The work that we’ve put together really paid off. I ran a PR this year, and got individual medals – my first individual medals – it was just a fantastic season. I think I showed a lot of strength and character. Some people were deterred by the three championships but I wasn’t fazed at all and I think I showed that”.
Her reaction to missing the World Championship final by that 1/100th of a second showed the tension that is always within her – a tension between gratitude for the achievements and progress made and the burning desire to achieve more and get faster.
“So many people say ‘you should be happy with what you’ve done’. Yes, I am happy with what I’ve done but when you know what you’re capable of and what you’ve done in training and know what your body can do, you will always have the attitude – ‘I wish I had done a bit more’. Yes, it’s important to be grateful and to appreciate the good moments and not undervalue them, but at the end of the day, we are athletes and we want to be number one. So, until I am number one with that Olympic gold medal, then I am always going to be searching for more”.
With the focus on the three championships, it is easy to forget that she was GB champion at 100 and 200, showing that Dina Asher-Smith is not invincible. Her time in Manchester was a windy 10.80. Windy, but her legs still had to cover the distance: “My body felt that time (10.80). I know I can do it legally. And to end my season with 10.90 legal – very legal! – is fantastic and just shows what the possibilities are for next season and beyond”.
For someone who ran sub-11 for the first time ever in July 2021 – at the Tokyo Olympics – she had made sub 11 become normal. After running two more sub 11s in 2021, she added six more sub 11 performances in 2022 – plus two windy ones.
“Whao, Whao. That’s incredible!”, she said when I pointed out the number of sub 11s. “I think that just shows the work I have put in, the effort and I have put in and the drive that I have because I want more. I think records are there to be broken and that’s what I’m chasing. To run sub 11, ten times [including two windy] is pretty iconic, remembering that I only broke 11 for the first time last year. I want more because so many people can run it and I want more for next year. And with a coaching change and so much going on, I am happy that I was able to take control of my situation and improve even more, working with Marco, which was incredible. And I’m really excited about what a still to come”.
One thing that Darryl is learning to come to terms with is being in races with Elaine and Shelly-Ann with a mindset that she belongs in that company. In the semi-final in Oregon against Shelly and in the Commonwealth Final in Birmingham against Elaine, she thinks she might have let herself be distracted by the opposition. “I am now getting into finals and lining up beside people whose videos I’ve watched a million times on Youtube. I am standing next to them and I’m learning how to compete and be focused on my own lane and what I need to do. It was surreal but it was fantastic for me because I really believe that I am now in a place where I belong. That won’t happen again. I feel very seasoned now in turning up and seeing those faces around me. Of course, I respect my opponents. For years I watched them when they won Olympics etc. But when it comes to being on the start line, I am fearless. That is what the season was about for me. I think every season you learn something and this season it was when you stand on that line thinking, ‘it is mine’. I’m here for me for nothing else. Sometimes you just got to learn the hard way. I think I show that a lot. I like a challenge”.
Shelly-Ann is an opponent she is trying to beat, but also an inspiration: “She has honestly been so inspiring, I think for the us females in sport and especially in track that I can relate to, it has always been a thing on our mind – having a family might cut our career short. It’s something you really think about. But to watch how Shelly has been such an amazing athlete, has had her child and has come back and is now running faster than ever is super inspiring. To me, when people keep saying to me ‘how much longer do think to keep doing this?’ I think there’s no limit. Because what I’m seeing in Shelly-Ann is insane, because she’s running 10.6 – I was going to say at her peak but I don’t know what is a peak any more! I think it’s exciting what she’s doing and so many other girls in the track world are mums. It really inspiring. It shows us that we don’t have to think with limits”.
Darryl, Shelly is 35 so that means you have at least another 10 years to run.