Gabby Thomas overcomes poor start to NCAA championships, qualifies for 200 dash final with fastest time

  • Harvard junior Gabby Thomas walks off the track following her semifinal heat in the 200-meter dash at the NCAA championships, Thursday in Eugene, Oregon. Courtesy Harvard Athletic Communications

For the Gazette
Friday, June 08, 2018

EUGENE, Ore. — Gabby Thomas began her third NCAA outdoor track & field championships by failing to qualify for the 100-meter finals.

To correct what she called “lack of discipline” in her 100-meter race, Thomas meditated prior to the 200-meter semifinals, Thursday at Hayward Field. She had yet to lose a 200-meter race this outdoor season and didn’t let the accomplishment pressure her.

The Florence native went on to maintain her unbeaten streak by winning the first heat of the 200-meter semifinals in a wind-aided time of 22.36 seconds, which made her the top overall qualifier by .01 over Georgia freshman Lynna Irby. The run qualified her for finals on Saturday, where she will hope to win her first outdoor NCAA title.

“It was stronger than my 100, relatively, in terms of what I’m capable of running,” Thomas said. “But it’s my race, so I went in a little more confident, little more relaxed.”

Last season at the NCAA championships, Thomas finished third in the 200. Shortly after, she left for Senegal to study abroad. Despite concerns from her coach that she would lose speed, Thomas came back faster and more prepared to handle the workload of a Harvard student-athlete.

A few months of training later, she became the first female sprinter from the Ivy League to win a title at the NCAA indoor championships, running a collegiate record 22.38 seconds in the 200.

A strong outdoor season set her up for making the outdoor 200-meter finals easily. At the Ivy League Championships, Thomas won the 100 by a half second and the 200 by a second.

In addition, she was part of the winning 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relay teams. In the latter, she closed a 2.8-second deficit on 2016 Ghana Olympian Akua Obeng-Akrofi in the final leg to win.

But Thomas didn’t continue this success in her 100 semifinals at the NCAA Championships. The Williston Northampton graduate finished sixth in her heat, missing the final for a second time.

“I feel like I need to put in a lot more work coming in to the actual competition,” Thomas said. “It’s disappointing because I’ve been training pretty hard for the 100 these past few weeks.”

Her focus is always on NCAA championships because of the stronger competition.

“That’s so much fun — that’s one of the best parts about track,” she said. “The better you get at track, the less competitors you’re going to have. It’ll push me to do and run the best that I can.”

Oregon’s Ariana Washington is one of the few sprinters who has consistently beaten Thomas. As freshmen in 2016, Washington won the 200 in 22.21 seconds, and Thomas finished third in 22.47 seconds. The following season, Thomas placed third in 22.61 while Washington got second in 22.39.

Thomas appreciates the competition, but doesn’t pay attention to it.

“I don’t really worry too much about who’s around me, so I’m just probably going to try and run as fast as I can run,” she said.

The two sprinters were in the same semifinal heats for both the 100 and 200 races. While Washington came out on top in the 100 and advanced to the finals, Thomas kept her unbeaten streak alive in the 200, defeating Washington, who failed to make the finals, and the rest of the field.

Heading into Saturday’s final, Thomas wants to focus on how she starts.

“If I’m even with everyone at the first 100, I’m pretty confident in finishing the race and winning,” Thomas said. Saturday “I’ll just be working on the beginning of my race, making sure I push out well enough so there’s no real estate for anyone to catch me.”

Even after a disappointing start to the day, Thomas showed mental strength and bounced back to run the fastest time in the 200-meter semifinals. “This is my baby, this is my race,” she said. “I’m confident, so I’m feeling good.”

UMass redshirt senior Heather MacLean missed the finals in the 800 meters, finishing fifth in her heat with a time of 2:03.61.

“It was definitely really tough, but it was nice to be with competition that was really good,” MacLean said. “I really wanted to qualify, but there was a really good field of competitors out there.”