Olympics: Florence’s Gabby Thomas earns bronze medal in stacked 200 field

  • Elaine Thompson-Herah, of Jamaica, wins the final of the women's 200-meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday in Tokyo. Florence’s Gabby Thomas, right, took bronze. AP

  • From left, Kathie Morrison, Jenna Motyka, and Mimi King cheer on Florence’s Gabby Thomas during the Olympics women’s 200-meter final Tuesday at the Williston Northampton School in Easthampton. COURTESY DENNIS CROMMETT

  • Elaine Thompson-Herah, of Jamaica, the gold medal winner, celebrates after the final of the women’s 200-meter with Christine Mboma, of Namibia, silver, and Gabrielle Thomas, of United States, bronze, at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, in Tokyo. AP PHOTO

  • Elaine Thompson-Herah, left, of Jamaica, crosses the fish line ahead of Christine Mboma, centre, of Namibia, and Gabrielle Thomas, of United States, to win the final of the women's 200-meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) David J. Phillip

  • Gabrielle Thomas, of United States celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the final of the women's 200-meter at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel—AP

  • Gabrielle Thomas, of United States, celebrates after her third place finish in the final of the women's 200-meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) Petr David Josek—AP

  • Elaine Thompson-Herah, of Jamaica, second left, races to the gold medal in the final of the women's 200-meter ahead of Christine Mboma, of Namibia, silver, Gabrielle Thomas, of United States, bronze, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, of Jamaica, fourth, at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel—AP

  • Gabrielle Thomas, of the United States, reacts after her third place finish in the final of the women's 200-meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek) Petr David Josek—AP

  • Gabrielle Thomas, of the United States, above and below right, celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the final of the women’s 200 meters at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, in Tokyo. AP photo

  • Gabrielle Thomas, of United States celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the final of the women's 200-meter at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) AP PHOTO

  • Bronze medalist Gabrielle Thomas, of the United States, poses after the women's 200-meter final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) David J. Phillip—AP

  • Bronze medalist Gabrielle Thomas, of the United States, celebrates after the women's 200-meter final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) David J. Phillip—AP

  • Gabrielle Thomas, of United States celebrates after winning the bronze medal in the final of the women's 200-meter at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) Martin Meissner—AP

Staff writer
Published: 8/3/2021 9:00:10 AM

Gabby Thomas willed her way through one of the most decorated Olympic 200-meter dash fields ever and earned a bronze medal.

The Florence native set up in Lane 2 flanked by Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, a seven-time Olympic medalist, and Switzerland’s Mujinga Kambundji, who has a bronze medal from the 2019 World Championships. She had to contend with Elaine Thompson-Herah, the Jamaican defending champion who already won gold in the 100, and Christine Mboma of Namibia, who edged Thomas down the stretch in both the first round and semifinals.

After the starting gun, Thomas needed to chase the field around the turn. She passed everyone but Thompson-Herah by the 100-meter mark. No one caught the Jamaican, who won the race and her second gold medal of the Tokyo Games in 21.53 seconds, the second-fastest time ever. Thompson-Herah swept the sprints in the last two Olympics, becoming only the second person to do that after her countryman Usain Bolt.

Thomas crossed the line third in 21.87. Mboma caught her down the back stretch once again to claim silver in 21.81. Thomas edged Fraser-Pryce by .07 seconds to secure her spot on the medal stand.

“I really worked for that one,” Thomas said. “I fought tooth and nail those last 30 meters.”

It was Thomas’ fastest time of the Olympics after not breaking 22 seconds in the first two rounds.

“It was a great race. When you look at that field, that’s the best or the second best 200 field ever assembled. The ’88 race is probably the other one. It was tremendous,” said Kebba Tolbert, Thomas’ college coach at Harvard. “A lot of people in that field had a lot of credentials. To go and get third is pretty tremendous.”

After crossing the line, the Harvard graduate and Williston Northampton alum raised her hands in celebration and flashed her signature, winning smile. Thomas draped herself in the American flag and waved it around the track.

“She should be (happy) — she deserves to be. When you look at the Olympic Games, a lot of people think they’re supposed to medal. A lot of people think they’re going to win,” Tolbert said. “When you look at the reality of major championships, to come home with a medal is tremendous. It’s a tribute to her completive spirit.”

After the race, Jennifer Randall said watching her daughter compete with that many people would fray her nerves too much. Thomas’ mother pulled up the live stream at home in Florence and viewed the race alone and quiet.

“It was intense. I was pretty anxious and nervous virtually through the entire thing,” Randall said. “I usually feel stress in my shoulders but when there’s too much, it (the stress) shifts and goes into my back. I’ll be walking around with a bit of a back limp.

“It was so exciting. I’m thrilled. My kid has a bronze medal from the Olympics, that’s insane.”

The broadcast cut to a world-record pole vault attempt right after the leaders crossed the line, so Randall wasn’t sure of Thomas’ position until the broadcast shifted back to the track.

“You want your kid to be happy and to get the thing that they work for. She’s supernatural in her work ethic,” Randall said. “I recognize the significance of it for so many other young girls. You can do all of it. We often tell young people you have to pick a lane. She made a decision she wanted all of it.”

Williston pride

That spirit and Thomas’ smile haven’t changed since her days at Williston in Easthampton. The school hosted a faculty watch party Tuesday morning on its projector screen in the Reed Campus Center.

They cheered when Thomas was introduced but fell silent before the gun and during the first part of the race. Cheers rang out as she rounded the turn and intensified when it became clear she would reach the podium.

“It was so exciting. You could feel a general electricity amongst the whole group,” Willistion associate athletic director Melissa Brousseau said. “Watching her, I’ve known her since seventh grade. Her mannerisms, her body gait, and her genuine smile has not changed at all since she was a student here. Her heart is so big and she loves competing, and that has not changed.”

Brousseau said she got flashbacks to Thomas’ senior year at Williston when the school hosted the New England Prep School Athletic Council championships. Thomas was voted the meet’s outstanding athlete by other coaches after winning her final race.

“Surreal is the perfect word. At the same time not shocking, because she is a phenomenal athlete and it feels like she is where she needs to be and she’s succeeding because of her hard work,” Brousseau said. “Everybody was so excited to see her compete, and the fact hat she won a medal, we all held our breath and had that collective feeling of we want her to succeed. She’s such a good representative of herself, of Williston and of the area.”

Mimi King taught Thomas algebra in middle school and has known her since she was 12 years old. She has worked at Williston for 35 years and relished keeping up with her students in their collegiate and professional careers.

“(Thomas) just is such an amazing ambassador for the school,” King said. “She always seems poised, she has such joy in her in everything I’ve seen her do.”

Thomas has a neurobiology degree from Harvard and is studying epidemiology in graduate school at the University of Texas. And she still has one event left, to potentially add another medal. She’s on the USA women’s 4x100 relay team. The heats begin at 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the final is at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

“I think it’s going to be another great competitive spirit type of run,” Tolbert said. “The Olympics are different than a school relay. You have less time together and less time to practice. By any stretch of the imagination Jamaica is the favorite. But if she’s able to come back with another medal that’s phenomenal. Fingers are crossed for good handoffs and good rhythm.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.




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