Olympic hopeful Gabby Thomas taking a nontraditional path to Tokyo 2021

American sprinter Gabby Thomas is adamant she hasn’t peaked yet and plans to do so this June in the hopes of making the 2021 U.S. Olympic team.

Gabby Thomas loved to play soccer as a kid. She was also interested in playing softball since her friends were on the team. Track and field was not remotely on her radar or even something Thomas liked.

“It was the running part of track that wasn’t appealing to me,” Thomas said. “In team sports you are running for a purpose, but track you are just running and that scared me.”

While Thomas was on the soccer field, a special “scout” was in the stands and noticed her daughter might have an elite skill-set. That’s right: At least in this case, Mom knows best.

“I did soccer and I was fast,” Thomas said. “She saw my speed and she said ‘Hey, you should do track and field, that’s what you are good at.’ It was a back-and-forth argument. Eventually I did end up having to go to that first practice and the rest is history.”

Thomas had a very successful high school career — 12 New England prep championships, 10 in individual events and two relay titles. But she was not considered an elite recruit.

“I had sent emails to every top track school in the country and they responded back with ‘Here are our standards, hit me up when you can reach these,’” Thomas said.

Cross LSU, Oregon, Florida, Texas, etc. off the list. Thomas knew her path had to be a different one if she wanted to continue in track and field. Her choice came down to two academic powers, Harvard or Duke. Thomas chose the Crimson.

“You don’t have to take one journey anywhere,” Thomas said. “There is not one path for anything, and so you follow your path and your dreams to what you want to do, whether that means going to a different school thats not known for sports and have success there, then you can do it.”

Thomas was recruited and coached at Harvard by Kebba Tolbert, who saw something in Thomas that her non-elite times in high school did not fully illuminate.

“She did not run that fast in high school,” Tolbert said. “When I recruited her I thought she could be much better. She was winning by a lot. Better competition makes you step up your game.”

Thomas stepped up her game big-time at Harvard, winning the 2018 NCAA 200m indoor title along with 22 conference titles in six different events. She turned pro after her junior year, signing with New Balance and is currently training in Austin, Texas, getting ready for the Olympic trials.

To make the U.S. Olympic team, you have to have your best day at the Olympic trials. No spots are guaranteed and the margins are razor-thin.

Tolbert believes Thomas has all the ingredients to do it.

“Gabby is really competitive,” Tolbert said. “You put a challenge in front of her she will often rise to that. She is not one to back down from a challenge. I have no doubt that she is good enough. It’s just a matter of will she be mentally, physically, emotionally capable on that day? I would not bet against her.”

Thomas recently won the 300m at the 2021 New Balance Indoor Grand Prix with a personal-best time (35.73). Even more impressive, it was her second straight personal best in the event after she ran 35.92 in January. It seems like the pieces are all coming together at the right time.

“We are in a good place right now, but have I peaked yet? Absolutely not. We are trying to peak later, June, the Olympic trials,” Thomas said.

Gabby Thomas is working with Zenni, who is outfitting athletes competing in the American Track League Indoor Series with sunglasses and frames equipped with its signature Blokz lenses for blue-light blocking.

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