Florence’s Gabby Thomas qualifies for 200-meter final at NCAA championships

For the Gazette
Friday, June 09, 2017

EUGENE, Oregon — Harvard sophomore sprinter Gabby Thomas meditates to get focused. In fact, it’s part of her training at Harvard.

It’s part of her pre-race preparation, too. She needed to do that twice Thursday at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships, where she qualified for Saturday’s final in the 200 meters and competed in the NCAA 100 meters for the first time.

“What I like to do is just imagine myself in the scenario and try and only focus on that,” Thomas said.

Thomas finished seventh in 11.54 seconds during her 100-meter semifinal heat, and then about an hour later she won her 200 semifinal heat. Her 200 time of 22.821 seconds beat Texas A&M’s Aaliyah Brown by only 0.001 seconds, and she qualified fifth overall for the finals, trailing top qualifier Deajah Stevens of Oregon, who ran 22.31.

“It was a learning process today,” Thomas said. “I think that I’m a little behind where I want to be in terms of focusing on my own race and staying disciplined. I belong here now, and that’s something I need to remember.”

The Williston Northampton graduate and Florence native ran the 100 in lane one, a task that she said was “scary” as her visibility was minimized but the intensity of a national championship race was maximized.

“It’s kind of about thinking about it differently and not worrying about the people in lane four or lane five,” Thomas said. “I was trying to focus on my own race and my own lane, which is something that I struggle with, especially at these big meets.”

Thomas, who finished third in the 200 a year ago at Hayward Field, is a two-time indoor All-American in the event. She had to bear the formidable Eugene weather. The rain stayed away from the track, but the cold was present.

“You can feel it in your muscles when they’re kind of cold,” Thomas said. “That’s a little frustrating because I felt the muscle movement wasn’t as fast as I wanted, but at the same time, you expect it for these conditions.”

Thomas, the two-time Ivy League champion in both the 100 and 200, was the only representative of the conference in both races.

“It’s an honor,” Thomas said. “I think it’s important because I like when people from these leagues know that you can be in Ivy League and also be fast. I like being able to represent the Ivy League out here — no one really expects it.”

At the Ivy League championships, she won the won the 100 by 0.24 and the 200 by 0.56 seconds. Thursday’s races were tighter.

“I go in (to Ivy League races) feeling very confident,” Thomas said. “When you come here, it’s just so competitive, it makes me push myself a lot more mentally and physically.”

Thomas, who placed seventh in the 200 during the NCAA indoor championships, will face some similar competition in Saturday’s final. Iowa’s Brittany Brown and Oregon’s Ariana Washington qualified second and third, respectively, behind Stevens heading into the final.

Thursday was the third time Thomas has run at Hayward, having run in last year’s championships and the U.S. Olympic trials, when she finished sixth. For Thomas, the environment at the NCAAs is not far off the environment at the Olympic trials.

“The energy here is really great,” Thomas said. “I was really nervous going out there, but once you get out there and you see everyone around you and you hear the announcer, it’s just so exciting. You’re kind of more excited than scared to run your race. There’s no feeling like Hayward.”

Thomas said she will watch “Friends” on Netflix in her hotel as she rests on Friday ahead of Saturday’s final. She wants to at least repeat her third-place finish of last year.

“I’m going to leave it all out there,” Thomas said. “I definitely think (third) is possible— second’s my goal.”