Up-and-coming track runner Mari Smith produced one of the performances of her career to win a British title in brilliant fashion.
The 21-year-old spent a winter plagued by injury which wrecked the bulk of her pre-season preparations.
But she recovered in devastating style to head a high-class field and take the 800m crown at the British Universities and Colleges (BUCS) Athletics Championships.
It was Smith’s second BUCS title, having won over 1500m last year, but her first over two laps.
Her rivals in the final at Bedford International Stadium included Emily Dudgeon, who competed for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, and race favourite Mhairi Hendry, who lined up for Great Britain at the World indoor Athletics Championships.
But Smith, who grew up in Frisby-on-the-Wreake, ran a perfect race to win in a personal best of 2min 03.71, just three-hundredths of a second outside the championship record, set 13 years ago by world championship medallist Marilyn Okoro.
“It’s still sinking in,” Smith said. “After a winter full of injury, if you’d asked me a few months ago if I could win one of the most competitive BUCS 800m finals in years, I’d definitely have said no!
“I was really pleased with my race, and executed my race plan perfectly.”
This was not the end of the medal-winning feats at the student championships, a traditionally strong event featuring many current and prospective international athletes.
Hours after winning the title, Smith, who belongs to the prestigious Birchfield Harriers Running Club, picked up a silver medal with Birmingham University’s 4x400m relay team, running a 54.9secs split.
They finished second to a strong Loughborough team which included Commonwealth Games medallist Niamh Emerson.
The performances have given the middle-distance runner a perfectly-timed confidence boost going into the senior season, and helped shape some justifiably ambitious aims.
“I want to further improve my 800m PB, maybe run some 400m races and maybe some 1500m, but mainly focus on the 800m,” she added.
“I plan to compete in the British Championships 800m this summer, and am targeting the final.”