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Athlete of the Week: Thomas Qualifies for 2016 Olympic Trials in 200-Meter Dash

Coming off a strong indoor season in which she claimed four titles at the track and field Ivy Championships—including individual wins in the 60-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and long jump—freshman Gabby Thomas was faced with high expectations for the outdoor season.

So far, she’s more than lived up to them.

This past weekend at the Raleigh Relays in Raleigh, N.C., Thomas set three new Ivy records, the most notable being a then-NCAA best time of 23.18 seconds in the 200-meter dash—good enough to automatically qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trials.

Thomas will attempt to become Harvard’s first female Olympian in track and field since Dora Gyorffy ’01, who competed in the high jump in the 2000 Sydney Games.

“[Qualifying] was a total surprise,” Thomas said. “I didn’t even know the qualifying time…. After the race, when I went over to my coach and he told me that I made the Olympic Trials, I was like, ‘What did he say?’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Those who have closely followed Thomas’s freshman year, though, could. After all, Thomas had a historically great indoor track and field season, culminating in her dominant performance at the Ivy Championships a month ago.

Indeed, she already owns the Ivy League’s indoor 200-meter dash record—courtesy of a 23.37 she ran back in February—and a plethora of other indoor Ivy records, including in the 60-meter dash.

“As a freshman, at first I didn’t know what I was capable of,” Thomas said. “It’s been a lot of really hard work, and sometimes it’s hard to go to practice every day, but it’s rewarding to know that it’s all paying off.”

And paying off, it is. Thomas’s outdoor season has picked up right where her indoor season left off, exemplified when Thomas ran a 11.39 in the 100-meter during the season’s first meet.

That time was a personal-best and would have been an Ivy record if her run had not been wind-assisted.

Thomas attributes her success this season in part to the leadership of the upperclassmen, including junior Jade Miller and senior Autumne Franklin, who both usually run along with Thomas in the 4x100 and 4x200-meter relays.

“[Jade and Autumne] push us to do better too because they’re so focused and talented,” Thomas said. “We don’t want to let them down when we go out there, since I know they’re putting in their all every time they go out to the track.”

Besides finding inspiration from the upperclassman, Thomas also finds motivation from competition with best friend and fellow freshman sprinter Ngozi Musa—who runs in the same events as Thomas.

“It’s really awesome having an athlete just as strong as I am to compete against in practice,” Thomas said. “At the same time, we’re super supportive of one another, so it’s a good combo…. The competition just drives us to do better individually.”

Musa, besides being a competitor, is also a crucial teammate in the Crimson 4x100 and 4x200-meter relay squads, composed of Thomas, Musa, Miller, and Franklin. This past weekend, the four-girl squad broke program and Ivy records in both of these races. The 4x200 Ancient Eight record even fell by more than a second.

“As one of our two captains, I’m thrilled to see such strong performances coming from our girls,” co-captain Paige Kouba said.

“Coach [Jason Saretsky] knew [Gabby] was good in high school, but she hadn’t yet shown the world what she could do yet,” she added.

And what better platform to show the world than the qualifying trials for the world’s biggest sporting event?

“At the Trials, I’m just going to do my best and trust in my coach,” Thomas said. “I’m excited to learn a lot about the people around me… so it’s a really good chance for me to focus on my own race and get better using the competition there.”

—Staff writer Phillip Yu can be reached at phillipyu@college.harvard.edu.

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