Hammer thrower Tara Simpson-Sullivan improved her personal best by more than a metre while competing against a United States Olympian to continue her impressive upward curve.
Tara, currently ranked number one in the UK, has now set her sights on gaining her first Great Britain vest and is also targeting a place at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The 20-year-old, from Lowther, is part-way through a four-year sports scholarship at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she is studying for a psychology and business degree. She also trains four to six days a week, depending on the time of year.
And it was in Houston, late last month, that Tara competed against Olympian Gwen Berry — a track and field athlete who specialises in the hammer and competed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The American won the Houston event with a 73.16-metre throw.
But it also proved to be a memorable competition for Tara, who told the Herald: “I had my best ever series, where all of my throws were over 60m and this is where I threw my PB of 68.91m.”
This beat her previous best mark of 67.67.
It was the latest in a number of eye-catching performances by Tara which have earned her both plaudits and accolades.
In addition to being named Conference USA female field athlete of the week — for shattering her own school record — Tara also landed Rice University’s best individual moment of the year.
This was in recognition of her being ranked third in the country nationally and breaking a host of personal records as she clocked up a string of outdoor season victories.
“Over the past 12 months I have improved massively, adding almost 10 metres to my previous PB,” said Tara, who is also currently ranked third in the European under-23 category.
“I’m really happy with my (latest) PB as it shows that things are finally coming together behind the scenes,” she said.
“And to be able to do it when competing against Gwen was incredible. She was super supportive and encouraging, which was crazy as I want to be an Olympian, just like her.
“As she is also based in Houston, I hope that I get to compete against — or even train with her — again.”
Tara is currently fifth in the US college system, is the highest ranking freshman, and is sixth in the present Commonwealth standings.
There have also, however, been some insurmountable challenges during the last year. Tara reflected: “With COVID it has been hard to travel home and see my family but it has allowed me to train consistently, something that many athletes in the UK have not been able to do.
“I’m hoping to come home mid-June, when I will continue my athletic season and finally be able to see my family after 10 months being away.”
Of her forthcoming ambitions, she said: “Within the next 12 months, I hope to gain my first ever GB vest and to break the 70-metre
“Looking further into the future, my main aims are to graduate from Rice University and to compete in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.
“My degree is four years long but I’m actually hoping to extend that to five years, as I gained an extra year of eligibility due to COVID. This would mean I would graduate in May of 2024.”
Tara is a former student of Penrith’s Ullswater Community College and Newton Rigg College.
She completed a two-year course in developing, coaching and fitness at the latter before jetting out to the States.
Tara’s mum is Tracy and she has a younger sister, Mia.