Aug. 10, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Natasha Hastings has experienced the highs and lows that come with the territory when you’re a world class sprinter. The former South Carolina All-American earned an Olympic gold medal in 2008 with Team USA as part of the 4x400 meter relay team, but she narrowly missed the cut for a spot on the relay team in 2012. Now 30 years old, Hastings is back in the Olympics and will once again compete in the 400 meter relay as well as the 400 meter dash.
“I think I’m like a fine red wine,” Hastings chuckled. “Sometimes we get better with age. As an athlete, you sometimes get told that you have this window, and you have to get things done in a certain time. So in 2012, you can imagine that was one of the reasons I was so disappointed. I honestly feel the best that I have ever felt. I’m pretty excited.”
Hastings was ten years old when she first wanted to go to the Olympics. Twenty years later, she is looking for her second gold medal, and she is thankful to South Carolina head coach Curtis Frye and the Gamecock program for helping make her Olympic dreams a reality.
“I knew I wanted to be a Gamecock probably my freshman or sophomore year of high school,” Hastings said. “I chose the program because I saw the success that Coach Frye had with his quarter milers, and the success his quarter milers had in their post collegiate careers. I knew I would be able to perform in college and also not get burned out when it was time to go to the next level.”
A record setting sprinter for the Gamecocks, Hastings has excelled as a professional. Winning gold in 2008 was an unforgettable experience for a lot of reasons.
“I earned that medal when I was 22,” Hastings said. “When we won that medal, it was certainly special because my mom, my brother, my grandparents, and even my godparents were there. I was about 10 when I knew I wanted to go to the Olympics, so when it actually happens, it’s surreal.”
The good feelings of 2008 turned to disappointment at the 2012 Olympics for Hastings, missing the cut by one spot for a chance to run in the 4x400 meter relay.
“In 2012, I couldn’t even watch the games,” Hastings said. “It was that hard for me to accept that I didn’t make the team. A million thoughts can flash through your mind in a second, so it made making this team that much more special.”
She bounced back after the disappointment of four years ago, and the following year, she won the U.S. Nationals in the 400 meters, tying her all-time best time of 49.84. Moving forward, making the 2016 Olympics wasn’t simply a matter of running fast. There were obstacles to overcome as Hastings suffered a hamstring injury a month before the Olympic trials.
“It was definitely a trying time, and something I had to remain super focused through,” Hastings said. “When it happened, I said a prayer to God because it seems like something always pops up around championship time. It was another moment where you feel like the goal is slipping away.”
I'm feeling like I’m in a cage a little bit because there is this excitement, but there is still some work to be done.
Hastings remained positive, and recalled some sage advice that Coach Frye had given her when she was at South Carolina.
“It was going into SECs one year,” Hastings recalled. “He always told us that now is a heightened time when things that normally wouldn’t bother you, would bother you because you’re so emotionally charged. That is what I had to remind myself. Yes, the hamstring was bothering me, but the week before I left for trials, I was fine. I knew there was a little something in there, though.”
She experienced more discomfort in the hamstring a few days before the qualifying races, but she trusted her treatments and processes to make herself ready. Needing to finish with one of the top three Olympic qualifying times to make the team, Hastings’ hamstring cooperated, and after running a good race, she sprawled out on the track to await the official results.
“I was so zoned out that I couldn’t hear a thing,” Hastings laughed. “My mom told me that they had actually announced that I had made the team. So I’m laying their on the ground, and I didn’t hear that. I was looking up at the board to see where my name appeared. It was probably all of ten seconds, but it felt like forever. When I saw the number three come up next to my name, I completely lost it. I was so emotional.”
Hastings will not only run as a 4x400 meter relay member, but she gets her first chance to run as an individual quarter-miler after taking a full second off her best qualifying time to nab the bronze medal at trials. She may be a veteran, but making the Olympics never gets old.
“I’m sure I will still be nervous, but it will be a different kind of nervous,” Hastings said. “I think one of the things I have as an advantage is my experience and being able to go back to my past experiences to mentally prepare. I will certainly be pumped with nerves and adrenaline, but I think I’ve learned how to manage them a lot better and use them to my benefit.
“I missed 2012 by one spot. Making any Olympic team is special, but this one is pretty special. I am super excited. I’m feeling like I’m in a cage a little bit because there is this excitement, but there is still some work to be done.”
Hastings hopes history will repeat itself, and that she will be able to share another gold medal experience with her family.
“I’m looking forward to having that moment with my family again,” Hastings said. “My mom, my brother, and my grandparents are coming to Rio. I’m probably going to have about ten people there. They’ve been so instrumental in this process since I was a little girl.”
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