Olivia Baker at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Donetsk, Ukraine

Olivia Baker hoping to follow in Hastings’ footsteps

A decade ago, US sprinter Natasha Hastings claimed the 2003 IAAF World Youth Championships 400m title in Sherbrooke, Canada and now the 26-year-old is tipped to win a medal at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow next month, having also made quite an impression on her young compatriot Olivia Baker, who is currently on track to replicate her role model’s success.

The 17-year-old from New Jersey leads the 2013 world youth list with a 52.71 personal best set en route to claiming the national title in Illinois last month. She cruised through the first round at this year's IAAF World Youth Championships with a 54.41 winning heat today (10).

Watched by her parents in the stadium stands, Baker will contest the semifinals on Thursday ahead of her quest for gold in Friday’s final.

Although not previously aware of Hastings’ win a decade ago, Baker is a follower of her results and hopes to follow in her countrywoman’s footsteps into the junior and senior ranks – with Hastings having taken the World junior crown in 2004 and the World indoor bronze in 2012.

“I’ve seen several winners here go on to run well at the juniors and then do well as a senior so I do see this as a first step to getting there,” she explained.

“I met Natasha at the New Balance Games during the indoor season and she took a picture with me. I don’t think she knew how well I’d been running at the time but we talked a little bit,” said Baker, who has improved from 53.48 in 2012.

“This has always been a dream of mine, just to be able to run here is so great. I’m living my dream.

“I’m enjoying the experience a lot. I don’t want to waste this opportunity. I want to go out there and give my best, at least run a personal best.

“I’m hoping for the gold but anything can happen. I don’t take for granted that I’m No.1 right now because anyone could run a personal best on any given day and take my spot. I think it will take a personal best for me to win.”

Despite enduring a packed racing schedule in her 2013 campaign, Baker insisted she and her coach Lisa Morgan have timed her peak to perfection.

“I still feel fresh and I feel like I’m peaking at the right time,” she explained, “I’m living the dream. Winning the gold would be a dream come true and the perfect end to my season.”

She declined to highlight her fiercest rivals for the gold medal.

“Literally anyone could come up and beat me on any given day so I don’t focus on any specific people. I look at the field as a whole, look at myself and focus on executing my race to run the time.”

When asked on whether she’d prefer to take victory or a lifetime best, the confident American simply replied: “I'd rather have both.”

Nicola Bamford for the IAAF