MNO Sports >Olympic Legacy >Gabby Thomas: Olympic 200m sprinter says world record could go in Paris, reveals imposter syndrome, and a passion for public health career

Gabby Thomas: Olympic 200m sprinter says world record could go in Paris, reveals imposter syndrome, and a passion for public health career

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Gabby Thomas speaks about her dreams of winning Olympic gold, her degree at Harvard, and having imposter syndrome...

Thomas is a sprinter with international medals but this summer she goes for Olympic gold in the 200m where many predict the world record will be broken.

In an exclusive interview with Mno Sports News she discusses her ambitions, overcoming imposter syndrome, advice to young girls worried about body image, and her two degrees that open up a medical career to help those in need.

For now, her focus is on the Paris Olympics this summer in Paris and performing at her best. She faces formidable competition with Jamaica's Shericka Jackson part of a group of women who are confident of ending on the podium and running frighteningly quick times.

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Thomas said: "Everybody wants a gold medal. A gold medal would be great and that's the pinnacle and the peak of athletics. But for me it's really about doing my best and putting on a performance that I can be proud of and knowing that I worked hard.

American sprinter Thomas says she is a gold medal contender at the Paris OlympicsAmerican sprinter Thomas says she is a gold medal contender at the Paris Olympics
American sprinter Thomas says she is a gold medal contender at the Paris Olympics

"When I came back from Tokyo Olympics with a bronze medal and a silver, I was very happy with that. I would have been happy ending my career there. It's really all the outward talk and chatter that you hear that makes you want that gold medal. You're like, Dang, well I really got to go get that!

"But it wasn't about that for me. It was about the fact that I put on a performance that I was proud of, and that was my best season to date. If I can go and replicate that in Paris I'll be really happy. Hopefully that ends up with a gold medal."

'200m Olympic final will be intense and historic'

In Tokyo, Thomas finished third in the 200m final to win Olympic bronze, in a race won by Elaine Thompson-Herah. Christine Nboma won silver.

At the 2023 World Championships in Budapest she won silver in the 200m finishing behind Shericka Jackson while her fellow American Sha'Carri Richardson took bronze.

This time the women's 200m will be one of the highlights in Paris. Thomas explained why she believes it will be a "special night."

She told Mno Sports News' Olympics correspondent Geraint Hughes: "The 200m is so exciting on the women's side, because we're running times that just have not been run before since Flo Jo (Florence Griffith Joyner holds the world record of 21.34 seconds).

Thomas believes the 200m Olympic final in Paris will be a historic raceThomas believes the 200m Olympic final in Paris will be a historic race
Thomas believes the 200m Olympic final in Paris will be a historic race

"Flo Jo was an anomaly in herself. So the fact that we have a few of us women doing that and doing such special things in that event.

"Shericka Jackson, Elaine Thompson-Herah, me, Sha'Carri Richardson and if Christine Mboma comes back, it's going to be a very intense and historic race. But we're all pushing each other to that level which is really special."

US sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner holds the world record in the 200m of 21.34 seconds which Thomas and other athletes are trying to beatUS sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner holds the world record in the 200m of 21.34 seconds which Thomas and other athletes are trying to beat
US sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner holds the world record in the 200m of 21.34 seconds which Thomas and other athletes are trying to beat

Thomas' fastest time in the event is 21.60 seconds which she ran nine months ago at the 2023 USATF Outdoor Championships. Jackson ran 21.41 seconds in the World Championships last year while Thompson-Herah's time of 21.53 seconds in 2021 is also not far away from Joyner's fastest time ever.

So, with the depth of talent will the world record go?

"It's got to go," Thomas says, speaking from her training base in Texas.

"I personally think with the right conditions, you can't control for weather or the type of track you're running on. But given the weather and the track, I think … yeah, that's going to be a really, really special event to watch."

Gold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah, centre, with silver medallist Christine Mboma and bronze medallist Thomas after the final of the women's 200m at the 2020 Summer OlympicsGold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah, centre, with silver medallist Christine Mboma and bronze medallist Thomas after the final of the women's 200m at the 2020 Summer Olympics
Gold medallist Elaine Thompson-Herah, centre, with silver medallist Christine Mboma and bronze medallist Thomas after the final of the women's 200m at the 2020 Summer Olympics

Imposter syndrome on the track and at Harvard

Thomas is a twin and her twin brother is called Andrew. She showed interest in football (soccer) at an early age but she also excelled in her studies which helped her get admission to Harvard which is where she focused fully on athletics.

Last month Thomas, who is 28, said on the social media site X: "Imposter syndrome is something I've always struggled with."

Though the admission might surprise many, Thomas explained why she made the online comments.

"I haven't always been a star, right? And every time I enter a new space, I'm challenging myself and putting myself in a space that I'm not comfortable with.

"So when it comes to track and field I moved to Austin, Texas to train with Olympians. When I moved here, I was not an Olympian.

"I wasn't even close to an Olympian. Nobody was talking about me making the Olympic team. So when I moved down here and told people, 'I'm training for the Olympics', I felt like an imposter.

"I had never made a U.S. team before. And so I had to work and fill that gap. And I ended up filling it.

"And now I am an Olympian, an Olympic medallist, and a gold medal contender. But I wasn't always. And I had to force myself to be in that space.

"Same with going to Harvard. I was not the best student in high school. I didn't know what it was going to take to be a doctor or do neurobiology.

"But I was in a room with the best students literally in the world. So, of course I felt like I didn't belong there. But I kept working and forced myself to be in that space until I did feel like I belonged there."

Thomas celebrates after winning the final in the women's 200m at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene in 2021Thomas celebrates after winning the final in the women's 200m at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene in 2021
Thomas celebrates after winning the final in the women's 200m at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene in 2021

She will have the support of her old university as she tries to become the first Harvard graduate to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field.

Not content with graduating from Harvard with a special focus on public health during her degree in neurobiology, Thomas had running and studying in her sights when she moved to Texas in 2019.

"Part of why I moved to Austin, Texas, was to get my master's in public health with a concentration in epidemiology. And so that's where I saw myself," she said.

Thomas poses with event mascot Youhuu after taking silver in the women's 200m final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last yearThomas poses with event mascot Youhuu after taking silver in the women's 200m final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year
Thomas poses with event mascot Youhuu after taking silver in the women's 200m final at the World Athletics Championships in Budapest last year

When Thomas moved there, she wasn't sure she would make the Olympic team so had alternative plans to get a master's, do a fellowship at a hospital and then work her way up to be a hospital CEO.

She said: "Right now I'm still running and I will be running for the foreseeable future. But you never know where you'll be in five years time, seven years, 10 years. So I'd love to continue that. Right now I have my master's. I finished about a year ago so I have a master's in public health.

"And I work at a healthcare clinic here in Austin that provides healthcare to people who don't have health insurance. So staying in the space, still making a difference. And I would definitely like to continue that after I retire from running."

'Really sad if body image worries stop girls playing sport'

In 2022 for Women's History Month, Thomas spoke about the misconceptions she was told about her body when she was an athlete.

She told WHOOP how her outlook on body image had changed during her athletics career and revealed her own insecurities, hoping it will allow others to overcome similar barriers.

She said: "Sports provide so many opportunities for women and especially younger girls in the younger generation. And when they're not encouraged to continue or they feel, you know, less than for continuing sports, especially due to body image, it's really sad.

"It's unfortunate that society just has us in this place where you have to even worry about that. I used to think about it when I was younger all the time too, just how I would look and what sports would do to my body and just afraid of being judged for doing it.

"But it's provided so much for me and I've gained so much because of sports. I've gained community, I've gained education, I've gained personal growth. So I would hate to see any type of younger girl lose out on those opportunities."

Goodbye to 'legend and mentor' Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Although Thomas is planning to run for many more years, the 2024 Olympics will be an emotional farewell for Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

The three-time Olympic champion announced she would stop after Paris because she owed it to her family. The Jamaican was the first 100m sprinter to win individual medals in four consecutive Olympic Games.

"Shelley is a legend and such a kind athlete too," said Thomas.

"It's not common that you have athletes that you're actively competing against, especially on the women's side, who are so kind and open to mentorship, and she is.

"She just illuminates this kindness and happiness and positive energy. She's been my idol growing up, and I remember in my 200m Olympic final in Tokyo, it was me and her for that bronze medal.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, of Jamaica anchors her team to win a Women's 4x100-meters relay heat during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, of Jamaica anchors her team to win a Women's 4x100-meters relay heat during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, of Jamaica anchors her team to win a Women's 4x100-meters relay heat during the World Athletics Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Friday, Aug. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

"I remember fighting tooth and nail to the end of the line and not even knowing if I had medalled or if Shelley had gotten it. Thankfully, I did. Shelley came right behind me and forth, and she was so happy for me.

"She has such a long, incredible career that she has nothing left to prove. She can just be happy for everyone. It's so admirable. You can go on and on about her, even just coming back from motherhood and better than ever. It's an unreal career."

Thomas says with almost 100 days to go the excitement will now start to build. Especially as the Olympics are in Paris and for many, including her, it will be the first with supporters after Tokyo was affected by the coronavirus.

"It's an Olympic year and a lot of the buzz is starting to come out. When we're 100 days out, everyone's getting really excited. So you get really motivated."

Thomas celebrates after their gold medal win in the Women's 4x100m relay final during last year's World Athletics ChampionshipsThomas celebrates after their gold medal win in the Women's 4x100m relay final during last year's World Athletics Championships
Thomas celebrates after their gold medal win in the Women's 4x100m relay final during last year's World Athletics Championships

Before that there is qualification for the Olympics which she describes as "cutthroat" and a "mental battle".

"There are so many of us who want to be on that Olympic team especially in track and field," she adds. "It's a hard team to make. It's cutthroat.

"[Qualification] is late. It's close to the Olympics. So we have all season think about that qualification process. In my opinion, it's the fairest way to do it, but it's definitely a mental battle.

"So you really need to be ready to make the team, and that's the most important part. I would say that I'm more I would say I'm more nervous for that than the actual Olympics.

"This being my second Olympics and being in such good shape and fitness, I'm really looking forward to it."

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