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Frustrations of fourth place becoming all too familiar for Britain

Dina Asher-Smith reacts to finishing fourth in the women's 200 meters, the fifth time a British athlete has finished just outside the medals at the World Athletics Championships in London. Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

LONDON -- Fourth is the bridesmaid placing of track and field, the position that is agonisingly close to the tangible reward of a medal. The margins between success and failure are often miniscule, but the attention goes to the three rivals in front who then stand proudly on the podium.

Yet for Britain, the host nation at these World Athletics Championships, fourth is fast becoming the story of London 2017.

Dina Asher-Smith was the latest British hope to experience being left on the outside looking in, just behind the medalists, in the women's 200 meters on Friday night.

She finished in a season's best of 22.22 seconds, just seven-hundredths of a second behind Shaunae Miller-Uibo, one of the prerace favourites, in third. While Dafne Schippers successfully defended her title ahead of Marie-Josee Ta Lou, Asher-Smith became the fifth British athlete to occupy fourth in their event at these championships, putting them one ahead of Jamaica and Kenya in that particular statistic.

Fourth is also comfortably the most common placing for the host nation, with three sixth places the next most. The reactions from the athletes, not surprisingly, have been mostly filled with confusion and contradiction.

"I was so close!" said Asher-Smith, who broke a bone in her foot last February and did not return to the track until June. "I had absolutely no idea that I could do that tonight.

"To do that, which is faster than I did last year in an Olympic year, I am over the moon with that. It hurts to just miss out but at the same time I am so happy to be that close.

"That was so close to my personal best that I am really happy. To finish fourth in world final after having a broken foot is really good and my best-ever finish [at a major championships]."

Asher-Smith was upbeat and smiling as she talked to reporters after her race but even she expressed mixed emotions, and it seems most athletes -- certainly those not used to medalling -- just don't know what to think of fourth.

Laura Muir was in tears after her 1,500-meter final, saying: "Fourth. That says it all." After taking a day to analyse things and then return later in the 5,000 meters, it was a different story. "Fourth in the world is bloody good," she said. "And it's the best I've achieved in a global final ... it's the closest I've been to the front. It's hard to take but fourth in the world is really good."

Callum Hawkins, fourth in the marathon, was disappointed because he had hoped to "sneak" a medal and was a matter or meters from doing so. Despite the fact that he had run a personal best and equalled the highest finish for a Briton, a record set 22 years ago, he said: "To actually see it [third place] as I was finishing was a bit tough."

Kyle Langford also recorded a personal best in the 800 meters to finish fourth, and the reaction of the Briton was a now-familiar one. "You sit down and say 'fourth, I'll take that,' but I know in myself and I know in my heart that I wanted to get a medal out here, so it is gutting not getting it."

The other Briton to feel the frustration of fourth was sprinter Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake in the 200 meters, but he was unequivocal about what it meant to him. "Nothing's perfect in the sport," he said. "You just execute in the best way you can. At the end of the day, regardless of how I feel about the race, it wasn't enough to get a medal."

At the rate the British team are going, you might expect them to finish fourth in the medals table, too, but right now that looks unlikely.

They were joint 13th -- with one gold medal -- at the end of Friday, with Lithuania, New Zealand, Greece, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic for company. Mo Farah's gold in the 10,000 meters, the very first of the championships, remains the solitary British medal and the pre-event target of 6-8 medals appears way off beam with two days to go.

If Britain achieve such a medal haul -- and there are still 14 finals to come before the championships close on Sunday -- they will have to have quite a weekend. All they can do now is be bold, and go forth.