Olympic champion Dame Jess Ennis-Hill is tipping Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson to inspire a whole new generation of girls to take up athletics with their performances at Tokyo.
Asher-Smith became the first British woman to win a major global sprint title as she claimed world 200m gold in a new national record time of 21.88 seconds in Doha last year.
Her heroics were matched by Johnson-Thompson in the heptathlon, who won the global outdoor gold she craved at the World Championships after breaking Ennis-Hill’s British record.
And when asked who she thought would be the world’s next biggest star at the Laureus World Sports Awards, two names came straight to mind for 2012 London gold medallist Ennis-Hill.
“I am obviously biased because I am British but I am tipping Dina to do big things this year, I honestly think she is going to be truly global,” she said.
“She is a huge inspiration, that is how it starts. Being able to see other athletes achieve their dreams and their goals and being able to relate to them in some way.
“I also think for Katarina [Johnson-Thompson] to be achieving what she is so far, and taking that legacy on within the heptathlon, is a great thing for sport.
“I think she will absolutely encourage more young girls to come in to the event which is great because that legacy will go on for a long time.”
Ennis-Hill retired from athletics in 2016 after winning a silver medal at the Rio Olympics, missing out on retaining her title by 35 points to Belgium’s Nafissatou Thiam.
But while she experienced many highs during her illustrious career, the 34-year-old from Sheffield did not hesitate when asked what was the most inspirational sporting event of the last 20 years.
“Again, I’m very biased, but for me it has to be the London 2012 Olympics, nothing could ever top that for me on a personal level, but also what it did for Olympic sport in general,” she said.
“It particularly helped the sports that didn’t have as much profile within Great Britain, they had such a fantastic platform and we did so much for sport in our country off the back of the Olympics.
“The Olympics has the power to bring everyone together where you are all routing for your country, and it brings that team spirit and that buzz around all the sports.
“It unites people on one level. I don’t think anything else can do it in quite the same way as the Olympics and I have been very fortunate to start in athletics from a young age.
“Having the opportunities at competition level of being in an Olympic village and seeing people like Chris Hoy for the first time. I was thinking, ‘You’re incredible, I’ve watched you’.
“Being alongside the likes of Usain Bolt and the variety of sportspeople from their own fields, from so many different sports. I think that’s what I have enjoyed the most.”
Ennis-Hill also stressed the power of sport to change lives, insisting the stories she heard from fellow athletes when she was younger inspired her to keep going when things got tough.
“I have met so many incredible people that have had totally different journeys within their sport and how they’ve got to the top,” she added. “I think that inspired me to keep going on with my own career.
“I think when you get into sport as a child, it is a hobby and something you enjoy doing but as you grow older you understand the power of sport and the opportunities it gives you.
“The chances it gives you to travel and meet new people and different cultures and understand different backgrounds which allows you to put that into your life.
“It allows you to retell your story. It is so powerful and there is nothing like it in the way it connects people and inspires people the way sport does.”