Florence native Gabby Thomas places third in NCAA 200-meter dash


For the Gazette

Published: 06-11-2017 12:23 AM

EUGENE, Oregon — Harvard sophomore Gabby Thomas was in fourth place with 50 meters to go in the 200-meter final at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships.

With about 15 meters to go, Oregon’s Deajah Stevens, one of the favorites to win the race, tripped and fell, allowing Thomas to move into third.

“In a finals race like that, you never know what’s going to happen,” Thomas said.

Thomas finished there with a time of 22.61 seconds, coming in behind Florida’s Kyra Jefferson (collegiate record 22.02) and Oregon’s Ariana Washington (22.39).

While Thomas’ place was the same as one year ago, her time Saturday was slower than last year’s 22.47.

“All in all, I think it was a good way to end the season,” the Florence native and Williston Northampton graduate said. “Lot to learn from it and lot to be proud of.”

Thomas warmed up inside while it hailed and rained in Eugene. The winds were too strong for the race to finish down the homestretch, so it finished down the backstretch instead.

“They never flip it here at historic Hayward — I was shocked,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if you feel it, but when you have a tail wind, it definitely helps, especially if you’re a lightweight like me.”

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Starting in lane six, Thomas had a wider angle around the curve than she had from lane four in the semifinals on Thursday. Thomas liked her lane, but was happier with her second half of the race than her first half.

“Wider turns are better for me,” Thomas said. “The only thing was not knowing where everyone was behind me, so coming off the turn, I was a little slower than I wanted to be. And upon realizing that, I kind of picked it up for the last 100.”

Thomas, who came in sixth in the 200 at the 2016 Olympic Trials in Eugene last summer, can tell that she is becoming a more experienced runner.

“You can ask any coach who watched me last year — I was kind of a mess, a little bit crazy,” she said. “But I think I’ve become a lot more disciplined.”

Four conferences were represented in the 200 final. Thomas was the lone representative from the Ivy League, and Iowa’s Brittany Brown was the lone Big Ten runner. Three runners belonged to the Pac-12 and the remaining three belonged to the SEC.

“I told her that I didn’t think that anybody was better than she was,” said Harvard assistant head coach Kebba Tolbert, who described Thomas as stubborn on the track. “We talked about it at the beginning of the year — be ready to run a great race at the national championship.”

Thomas was the only true sophomore in the race. Six of the seven other runners were juniors or seniors.

“I always kind of feel like the underdog, the outcast. I just feel like the baby,” Thomas said. “I’m just used to the feeling. It’s fun to go out there and they don’t expect you to get there.”

Thomas won her semifinal heat in the 200 in 22.82 seconds, possessing the fifth-fastest time heading into the final. The fastest time of the semifinals belonged to Stevens, who crossed in 22.31 seconds.

Thomas’ focus now shifts from the track to the classroom as she heads to Senegal to study for eight weeks to get fluent in French.

This is unusual for an NCAA finalist sprinter to forgo the U.S. nationals, but Tolbert said it does not surprise him, noting that she enjoys being with friends and listening to music, while being serious in the classroom and on the track.

“I’m very excited,” Thomas said. “It’ll be a good break. I plan on taking my time off for a couple months, and when I come back in August, we’ll take it from there.”