Florence’s Gabby Thomas ‘the person to beat’ in 200m at Olympic Trials


  • Florence’s Gabby Thomas is hoping to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in both the 100 and 200 meters. COURTESY/Weston Carls Photography

Staff Writer
Published: 6/18/2021 8:01:31 PM

Gabby Thomas stumbled to the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in 2016. After an extended freshman season at Harvard, the sprinter from Florence needed a break.

“I honestly barely wanted to be here because I was so tired of running,” she said. 

Thomas placed sixth in the 200-meter dash running with the likes of Tori Bowie, Deajah Stevens and Allison Felix, one of her idols. Over the past five years, Thomas’ idols have become her rivals.

The Harvard product is surging into the 2021 Olympic Trials. She graduated in 2019 and dedicated herself to track and the pursuit of an Olympic team spot.

“I kind of knew at that time I needed to make some changes to give myself a fair shot and a legitimate shot at making the Olympic team,” Thomas said. “Even just seeing what I could do, reaching my potential on the track. That’s really all it was.”

Thomas moved to Austin, Texas, in October 2019 and started working with a new coach, Tonja Buford-Bailey — a three-time Olympian and bronze medalist in the 400-meter hurdles.

“I moved to this environment because these girls are incredible at what they do. I go to practice very day and I am bringing the intensity and I have to come on 100 percent every time I’m training,” Thomas said. “That’s really the difference, having my body have that muscle memory and training my mind to be ready and prepared and being around people who love track and are motivated and share the goals that I have.”

Thomas will race two events at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, over the next two weeks: the 100 and 200. They’re the same races she ran in 2016, but her approach is completely different. She’s no longer a wide-eyed kid marveling at the experience. Thomas has her sights on Tokyo. The top three finishers in each event will qualify for individual events, while USA Track & Field will select the relay teams.

“I’m grateful that I had the experience and know what to expect, but I feel like such a different person,” she said. “I’m in such a different head space and have such different expectations for myself and I want to be here.”

She had to decide between the 400 and 100 to go along with the 200 – her specialty – since they’re divided into two different sessions. Thomas landed on the 100 because she’s relatively new to the 400 and didn’t know exactly how her body would react to the 200-400 double.

“At the end of the day, I’m setting myself up to succeed in the 200. That’s my priority because that’s the event I see myself medaling in actually at the Olympic Games,” she said.

This new level of confidence fits her well, and she’s earned it. Thomas emerged from places that don’t produce many elite sprinters – Western Massachusetts and the Ivy League – by focusing on her craft and honing her talent.

“My whole career at Harvard I didn’t feel like I belonged in a lot of the spaces. This is my first season not being a Harvard student and moving training groups. I feel a lot more confident. I feel like I belong,” Thomas said. “I’ve proven myself. All I need to do is go execute. I’m the person to beat right now, at least in the 200. That’s what I have to lose. It’s a little bit different. I do feel like I belong here.”

That brings its own kind of pressure and expectations. Having a chance to make an Olympic team is one thing, knowing you should is another.

“It’s a lot more added pressure, which is something I’m not used to. That’s the one caveat to this. When I was at Harvard, I had everything to gain, and no one expected anything,” Thomas said. “I handle it the way I handled things at Harvard: I’m just going to go out and do the things I know how to do. I think I put a healthy amount of pressure on myself, and that’s one of my greatest qualities as an athlete is how I compete under pressure. Once you’re on the line and the gun goes off, none of that matters. All that matters is how you execute. That’s really it.”

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


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