There was something wonderful about seeing history graduate Dina Asher-Smith make her own kind of history at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championships this week, with the 23-year-old powering down the home straight of the women’s 200 metres final to become the first British woman to earn a world sprint title.
Despite the lack of spectators in the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, there were plenty cheering Asher-Smith, who graduated from King's College London in 2017, back home in Britain. The sprinter’s beaming smile was inescapable on social media, while her image was plastered across the nation’s newspapers.
Asher-Smith's stock has been rising, with three European Championships gold medals coming last year, but her world title has now secured her place among the best of Britain's current sport stars.
Her win was almost perfect timing for the British Olympic Association (BOA), who launched their Team GB campaign for Tokyo 2020 just hours before Asher-Smith crossed the finish line.
Building excitement for the Games is likely be a tougher challenge than normal for the BOA. Olympic spirit has been high in Britain in recent years, following on from the feel-good factor of London 2012 and sporting success of Rio 2016.
Sports data company Gracenote Sports have predicted that Britain’s medal haul will significantly drop at Tokyo 2020, however, falling from the 67 earned at Rio 2016 to 43. If the forecasts are correct, that would see Team GB go from second to fifth in the medal table.
Even more pressing are the political divisions running through Britain, transcending geography, social background and even family. Since the country voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, any sense of national unity has fallen apart, a situation which is worsening day-by-day.
It is near impossible that Team GB will manage to engineer the level of national pride that was once felt during London 2012, but the new campaign looks like it's going to try.
Named "This is What Makes Us", the BOA promise the campaign will inspire British people to unite behind Team GB during a time of heightened national division.
"Team GB fans are different ages, come from different backgrounds, have different belief systems, but they are united by their support of the incredible Team GB athletes," Mark England said, chef de mission for Team GB at Tokyo 2020.
"Olympic sport has an unmatched ability to bring people together, even if in all other aspects of society, we feel extremely divided."
The campaign’s emotive launch video is narrated by Kate Richardson-Walsh, a member of the British hockey team that topped the podium at Rio 2016.
In a clear attempt to evoke nostalgia from past glory days, the video shows clips of recent British Olympic heroes such as cyclists Sir Chris Hoy and Laura Kenny, boxer Nicola Adams and Richardson-Walsh herself.
Only Kenny will be competing in Tokyo, however, so what good timing that Asher-Smith showed the country exactly what it can look forward to next year. It is significant that she triumphed in athletics as well, with British icons such Sir Mo Farah and Dame Jessica Ennis hailing from the same sport. With Dame Jessica having retired and Sir Mo coming to the end of his career, the timing of Asher-Smith’s success is all the more important for Team GB.
More positive news came when Katerina Johnson-Thompson clinched gold in the heptathlon. Although only three years older than Asher-Smith, it seems like the Liverpudlian has been on the athletics scene a lot longer, with podium finishes always just seemingly slipping through her fingers.
She finished fifth at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, sixth at Rio 2016 and fifth again at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
Then came Commonwealth Games gold last year in the Gold Coast, followed by the world title this week. Johnson-Thompson was already a popular figure, but her latest success after years of near-misses has improved her image even more.
She is now hitting her stride just in time for Tokyo 2020, providing another boost for Team GB.
Two potential British heroes have emerged from the IAAF World Championships then, but who else can Team GB use to build excitement for next year’s Olympics?
Swimmer Adam Peaty achieved three gold medals at July’s World Championships in Gwangju and will be aiming to retain his 100m breaststroke Olympic title in Tokyo. Max Whitlock, Britain’s first ever artistic gymnastics Olympic gold medallist, will be trying again for gold in the floor and pommel horse, while Jade Jones is on track for her third consecutive Olympic taekwondo title. Kenny, of course, could surpass Sir Chris's haul of six gold track cycling medals.
Despite the gloomy forecast for Tokyo 2020, it is apparent that there is still a wealth of talent that could lift the spirits of a nation next year.
Athletics is seen as the pinnacle of the Olympic Games, however, and extremely popular in Britain. Though dated, a YouGov survey from 2012 found that 72 per cent of participants listed athletics as one of their favourite Olympic sports. The next sport was swimming with 46 per cent. This would not have changed significantly over the past seven years and might have even increased following Britain’s recent accomplishments in track and field.
The emergence of Asher-Smith and Johnson-Thompson as world champions will delight the BOA then, who will undoubtedly use both athletes at the forefront of their attempt to unify a divided country behind Team GB next year.
It will take more than sport to sort out the political quagmire Britain finds itself it in, but the continued success of both athletes may lift the mood somewhat.