The US women's 400 metres champion Natasha Hastings happens to be a cousin of Shaka Hislop, the former West Ham goalkeeper who spent time working on the Space Station Freedom project at Nasa while studying mechanical engineering at Howard University, Washington. In the second semi-final of the women's 400m at the World Championships last night she blasted off at a frightening speed – only to find herself overtaken by a rocket in the shape of the Great Britain team captain.
Christine Ohuruogu – unlike Hastings' cousin, more than a temporary resident in the East End of London – timed her effort to perfection, hanging back while Hastings and Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica forced the pace before surging past both of them in the home straight. She crossed the line a clear winner in 49.75sec, a time she has only bettered on three occasions: when winning the world title in Osaka in 2007 (49.61sec), Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 (49.62sec) and silver on home ground in Stratford at London 2012 (49.70sec).
The frightening thing for her rivals is the 29-year-old Briton can go faster when it comes to the medal crunch in the final tonight. She strolled off the track as though she had just completed a training run. "I'm just really happy to be in the final," she said. "I wanted to make sure I finished well at the end."
Not that Ohuruogu was the only impressive semi-final winner – nor, indeed, the fastest. Running in the first race, Amantle Montsho threw down the gauntlet with a 49.65sec clocking. It promises to be a humdinger of a head-to-head between the British captain and the defending champion from Botswana when the final gets under way at 6.15pm British time tonight.
"We absolutely can't take anything for granted tomorrow," insisted Ohuruogu's long-time coach, Lloyd Cowan, eager to ease expectation. "There are six girls who have run inside 50sec and most of them are going to be even closer to the line in the final. I'll just be happy if Christine puts together a great race tomorrow. That's all I want."
Still, the prospect of a British medal to add to Mo Farah's 10,000m gold looks bright. There were hopes that Shara Proctor might deliver number two but it was a disappointing case of déjà vu for the native Anguillan in the final of the women's long jump. Twelve months ago she registered the best mark in qualifying at London 2012 but finished ninth in the final. This time she again registered the longest jump in the preliminary round on Saturday and still finished out of the medal frame.
Proctor's second-round effort of 6.79m put her in third place before she dropped to sixth. To compound her frustration, had she matched her qualifying round jump, 6.85m, she would have taken bronze. Brittney Reese, the defending champion, claimed the gold with 7.01m.