Florence native Gabby Thomas sets sights on NCAA 200-meter dash title

  • Gabrielle Thomas wins her heat during qualifying for women’s 200-meter run at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, in Eugene Ore. Thomas is looking to win her first NCAA championship in the 200 on Saturday. AP

For the Gazette
Friday, June 08, 2018

EUGENE, Ore. — A victory in the 200-meter dash on Saturday would make Harvard junior sprinter and Florence native Gabby Thomas an indoor and outdoor NCAA champion. In addition to her hard work during the season, she attributed this success to her “amazing experience” studying abroad in Senegal this past summer.

In Senegal, the Williston Northampton graduate took a course on religion and culture, which provided a break from the science classes of her neurobiology major. Although there for a study abroad program, she spent time touring the country as well.

“It gave me a great chance to get a new perspective and mature a lot as a person,” Thomas said. “And I think that coming in the fall the following year, I was so much more ready. I was so much more intense, I was so much more mature of a person and athlete. So my training has just been exponentially better, and it’s allowed me to come out and just have a standout year.”

Since returning from Senegal and winning the indoor NCAA championship, Thomas has yet to lose a 200. That includes a semifinal victory at the NCAA championships on Thursday, when she finished in 22.36 seconds, the fastest overall time across three heats.

An hour before Thursday’s 200, Thomas had failed to qualify for finals in the 100-meter dash. It marked the second consecutive time she was eliminated in the 100 semifinals, versus three straight finals appearances in the 200.

“Definitely saving a little bit for the finals,” Thomas said after the semifinals. “Not too much pressure on that race, so I wasn’t feeling too pressed to PR. It was a solid run, overall.”

Georgia freshman Lynna Irby won the third heat of the 200 and ran 0.01 seconds slower than Thomas — and her time, unlike Thomas’, was not wind-aided. Thomas recognizes Irby as her best competition in Saturday’s finals and will adjust her running style to accommodate that.

“Lynna Irby, the freshman at UGA, and I are both very strong finishers. We can both run a 400,” Thomas said. “So, for me, I guess finishing strong is not going to be what I am going to rely on.”

A strong finish in the 200 is her trademark, but Saturday’s final will require more than relying on the second half of the race.

“It will be more about pushing out a lot harder than I normally do, trying to get that gap in the beginning, and then finishing strong,” she said.

Saturday’s competition marks Thomas’ third attempt at the 200 NCAA title; she placed third as a freshman and sophomore. With seven straight victories at that distance and the fastest qualifying time, Thomas enters the race confident.

“Now I have the fastest time going in the 200,” Thomas said. “This is my baby, this is my race. I’m confident, so I’m feeling good about (Saturday).”

Her chance to win the title and improve upon an already accomplished track season will be at approximately 8:07 p.m. EST.