Driven by an acute sense of pain after missing out on the London Olympics, US track glamour girl Natasha Hastings is getting back to her very best form in time for a tilt at the world title in Moscow next month.
After six years of frustration, the multiple relay medallist is set to compete in an individual event on the major global stage for the first time.
Known for her eye-catching pink coloured track wear, Hastings, based in Texas, booked her spot on the US world championship team by winning the national 400m title in style. Her time of 49.94 was the second fastest of her career so far.
For Hastings it brought to an end an unwelcome streak at the US Championships, where she finished fifth in 2008, fourth in 2009, fifth in 2011 and sixth in 2012.
The result, and the time, delighted the articulate one-lap runner, who is having a big birthday bash tonight, ahead of her 27th birthday on Tuesday.
“I ran 49.84 six years ago, and three weeks ago was the first time I got anywhere near it,” she tells SPIKES. “I’m excited by the result in Des Moines. I’m just hoping to get better. It was the perfect race that day but today we have to look at it, break the race down, and see how to move forward.”
Hastings was immersed in track growing up. Her first athletics memories were as a five year old, sprinting behind the college men where her father Charles coached.
Her London-born Trinidad-raised mother, Joanne, was a former 100m and 200m sprinter. In fact, Hastings didn’t beat her mum in a 30m sprint until she was aged “13 or 14”.
Showing rich potential as a youngster, she landed 400m gold at the 2003 World Youth Championships and the world junior crown the next year. Her progression into the senior ranks, initially at least, appeared seamless.
Aged 20 she posted a lifetime best – which still stands – of 49.84 to finish runner-up at the 2007 US Championships. She failed to advance beyond the semi-finals at the Osaka World Championships but a golden future was predicted.
(L-R) USA 400m team: Francena McCorory, Natasha Hastings and Ashley Spencer
Her career, although at a consistently high level, has not quite panned out as many would have thought. Since Osaka, the Brooklyn-born athlete has featured in one Olympic and three world championship gold medal winning US 4x400m teams, but individual success has proved elusive.
The question is why?
“I don’t think there has been one particularly thing,” she says. “I’ve made several coaching changes but for me there was a huge difference between competing collegiately and competing as a pro [she turned pro in 2007].
"Being a student athlete your responsibility is to get grades and run well on the track. Being a professional athlete, your responsibility goes into purely being successful on the track. You go from being a child to an adult overnight.”
Hastings doesn’t mind admitting she struggled to make the adjustment, and last summer she was at an all-time low after missing out on qualifying for London 2012: it was a shattering blow.
"Being left out last summer was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with,” she says. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t watch the Olympics. It is hard to watch your event going on and at the same time you want to be supportive of your team-mates and be happy for them.
"It is a weird feeling to put into words. You find yourself going through the motions because on the inside you feel this turmoil because you want to be out there so badly.
“I had put a lot of pressure on myself to make the 2012 Games. I was 26 and physically at my peak. My mum had not been back to London since she left when she was 13. I wanted to bring my mum back.
"I felt I let down a lot of people down. I’d been running since I was five years old and I could never imagine not making the Olympic team at 26."
Yet out of the pain and hurt of 2012, hope has flourished in 2013.
Joining Darryl Woodson’s training group the day after Christmas in 2011, she has slowly started to reap the benefits of her first full winter under his training regime.
She has carried out more “over-distance work” than in previous seasons, and is training alongside Olympic medallists Bianca Knight and Michael Tinsley.
Hastings also believes that a fresh mental adjustment has helped alleviate the pressure, and this has been reflected in her performances.
“I’ve decided to think more in the moment and that has made a difference,” she says. “I can’t feel sorry about what I haven’t done. My approach this year is just to focus on what I now have control of.
"2012 didn’t work out for me. I now need to make the team for Rio 2016."
Yet before Rio, she has the small matter of a World Championships, and one clear ambition:
"I’m certainly going for gold," she says in a flash. "I’d love to hear the national anthem in my honour. I’m looking to go out there and have the performance of my life.”