This July in Tokyo the world discovered what Williston track fans have long known: Gabby Thomas ’15 is very, very fast. The New Balance-sponsored professional sprinter won Olympic bronze in the 200-meter race and anchored the U.S. women to a silver medal in the 4×100 relay. Along the way, Thomas’ intelligence garnered almost as much attention as her speed. As she blazed through her heats, TV commenters never tired of mentioning her degree in neurobiology and global health from Harvard and the fact that she’s a full-time graduate student in epidemiology at the University of Texas—while competing at the highest level of her sport. A rare double-double, and one Thomas’ Wildcat teachers and coaches remember well from back when she was earning accolades in the classroom and setting records on Galbraith track. Now studying and training in Austin, Texas, where she shares her home with an adorable pug named Rico, Thomas spoke to us about her Olympic experience.
Do you have a pre-race ritual you always perform?
Wake up, drink coffee, meditate, and relax. When I get to the track for competition, it’s the same thing.
What’s your favorite warm-up music right now? Headphones or earbuds?
When I listen to warm-up music, it’s usually upbeat like Kanye or Jay-Z. Earbuds.
Do you have a traditional night-before-a-big-race go-to meal?
Nope! I eat whatever makes me happy and won’t feel too heavy the next day.
Did the Olympics feel completely different from other meets, Diamond League, U.S. Trials? Or is it all the same come race time?
The Olympic Trials was the most intense round of races that I’ve ever run—even more competitive than the Olympic rounds. The Olympics was the most fun experience—I made it to Tokyo and the training was done, so all that was left was to compete and leave it all on the track.
Do you have a favorite lane?
Not particularly. I like to be on the inside of certain runners (for example, somebody with an explosive start, so I can chase). All tracks are shaped a little differently, so any lane from 4 to 7.
How do you catch your breath for the customary post-race interview, which seems a terrible imposition? Were you ever tempted to tell Lewis Johnson to wait a minute?
Taking deep breaths! It’s usually fine after a 100 or 200. It’s the 400 where it’s challenging. I have asked Lewis Johnson to wait a minute or asked to talk to him later, and he’s very understanding.
The TV commentators talked a lot about the high heat and humidity in Tokyo. Was it a factor for you, having grown up and competed collegiately in Massachusetts?
The high heat and humidity was a challenge for everyone, particularly the U.S. team, which did not have a training camp prior to the Games. Fortunately, I had been training in the heat of Austin, so I was more prepared.
Any thoughts just before the gun went off in the 200 or the relay?
Before the 200, I focus on pushing out of the blocks and anticipating the gun. I try to focus on one thing. Before the relay, I was just focusing on what the three other legs were doing, and how quickly Jenna (third leg) was running.
What’s the trick to running the curve in the 200-meter sprint?
Practice! Accelerate into the turn and accelerate off of the turn.
How did you celebrate after winning your medals?
I celebrated with my Team USA teammates in Tokyo, then I came back to the U.S. and my friends surprised me with a celebratory party here in Austin with all of my friends and family.
Was there an athlete you were hoping to meet? Did you?
Simone Biles! Yes, I did.
Biggest surprise for you at the Olympics—on the track, in the village, about Tokyo?
How friendly and personable all of the athletes were!
Goals for the coming year?
Medal at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Marion Jones, Merlene Ottey, Allyson Felix, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Evelyn Ashford—legends of the sport—and you’re faster than them all. Was there a point in your training leading up to the U.S. Trials when you felt, yeah, I’ve got this?
I felt confident going into Trials, and I knew I had put in a lot of work. It wasn’t until after I had made the 4×100 relay pool, in the first week of Trials, that I felt like I was going to make the team in the 200 the following weekend. It was good momentum.
Less than three-tenths of a second: Is Flo Jo’s 33-year-old record within reach?
Maybe—I’ll keep working toward it!
How on earth are you balancing grad school and running?
I enjoy running track and I love studying public health, so I’m having fun and making time for it.
First thing you did when you got home?
Ate a ton of junk food!
Favorite track memory from Williston?
4×100 relay school record in 2014. They are still some of my best friends.
Advice to students at Williston today?
Explore new things and follow your passions. Williston’s a great place to learn about yourself.
The 4×100 team you anchored to silver looked really strong. Any chance of keeping it together?
I hope so!