Gabby Thomas ’19 Wins Olympic Trials, Heads to Tokyo

Thomas becomes the second-fastest woman ever in the 200-meter dash.

Gabby Thomas winning the 200-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Gabby Thomas celebrates after winning the final in the women's 200-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Saturday, June 26, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. Photograph by AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Former Harvard student-athlete Gabby Thomas ’19 made history on Saturday, becoming the second-fastest woman ever in the women’s 200 meters and clinching a spot at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Her time of 21.61 seconds was the best since 1988, when Florence Griffith Joyner set the top two marks. 

The U.S. Olympic Trials was a remarkable few days for Thomas, who grew up in Florence, Massachusetts. She finished fifth overall in the 100 meters, running a personal best in qualifying and securing a spot on the 4x100-meter relay pool. But it was in the 200 meters—her best event—where she broke through. She set a personal best in both rounds of qualifying before a final race that stunned even herself. At the straightaway, she held a slight lead over runner-up Jenna Prandini, but she gapped the field in the final 60 meters, throwing her arms up in celebration with about 10 meters to go. Seeing her official time on the scoreboard, she cupped her hands over her mouth, her eyes wide. “I’m still trying to gather my thoughts,” Thomas said in her first post-race interview. “I’m speechless right now.”  

For those who have been following Thomas since her time at Harvard, the results may have been slightly less surprising. Thomas holds the 2018 NCAA title in the indoor 200 meters and owns almost every Crimson sprinting record: the indoor 60 meters (7.25), 200 meters (22.38) and 300 meters (37.47), and the outdoor 100 and 200 meters (11.19, 22.32). She also was on the school’s record-holding 4x100-, 4x200-, and 4x400-meter relay teams, and the indoor 4x400 meters. She even has the Crimson’s best-ever long jump (6.27 meters). 

A neurobiology concentrator at the College with a secondary in global health and health policy, Thomas has continued her academic career alongside her athletic one. She is pursuing a master’s degree in epidemiology and health care management at the University of Texas at Austin. In an interview with NBC, she credited a Harvard course, “Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: A History of Health Disparities in America,” taught by the Rosenkrantz Professor of the history of science Evelynn Hammonds, for getting her interested in public health. 

Though Thomas’s career has progressed steadily since her first year of Harvard, she had a medical scare a few weeks before the U.S. Olympic Trials when doctors found a tumor in her liver. “At first I wasn’t too worried about it,” Thomas told NBC, “but the more I kept talking to doctors they kept saying cancer.” Fortunately, it was benign. “I remember telling God that if I am healthy, I am winning trials,” she added.

Thomas will face big expectations heading into Tokyo, where she is now considered a gold-medal favorite. But after her tremendous race, she will carry into the games a new sense of confidence. “It definitely has changed how I view myself as a runner,” Thomas said. “I think the standard for myself is a lot higher.…I just want more for myself now. Now, I’m going to have to start thinking about different goals, different visions. Because this was my dream—my dream was to make the Olympic team, not to win Olympic trials, not even to break the meet record. Now that I’ve accomplished those, I’m going to set higher goals.”

Read more articles by Jacob Sweet
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