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Gabby Thomas

Gabby Thomas plans to ‘run until the wheels fall off’ after Olympic success

Thomas is putting her medical career on hold while she continues to race

Not long ago, Gabby Thomas thought that at age 24, she would be working for a nonprofit medical organization, or maybe as a hospital administrator, with a focus on eliminating racial disparities in health care. That was the plan – make the 2020 Olympics, maybe try a few pro meets afterward, then put her Harvard undergrad degrees in global health and neurobiology to use.

Then 2021 happened: She ran the third-fastest 200-meter time ever, won a bronze medal in the 200 at the postponed Tokyo Olympics, and took home a silver in the 4×100-meter relay. 

“Now I’m thinking I’m going to run until the wheels fall off,” Thomas said.

Thomas spoke to The Undefeated from Austin, Texas, where she trains with coach Tonja Buford-Bailey’s collective of Black women and is studying for a master’s degree in epidemiology at the University of Texas. Fresh off a breakout summer as one of the new stars of track and field, she is still processing her Olympic experience and leaning into a promising professional career.

“I’m just really, really happy to be home and to have come home with two medals. That’s something that can never be taken away,” Thomas said. 

She was considered one of the 200-meter favorites in Tokyo after winning the U.S. Olympic trials in 21.61 seconds, which was then the second-fastest all time behind Florence Griffith-Joyner’s unassailable 21.34 from 1988. Thomas got off to a glorious start in Tokyo, exploding through the curve of her first Olympic race, long hair flying so freely the internet called her Wonder Woman. She advanced with a second-place finish after being overtaken by the unheralded Christine Mboma of Namibia, who had been barred from running in the 400 when she refused to take medication to lower her naturally elevated testosterone levels. Later that day, in the second round, Thomas finished third behind Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah and Mboma, barely advancing to the final.

The extra-hard track in Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium was credited with helping some athletes run fast times, but it also took a lot out of Thomas. She says the track and jet lag led to her struggles in the first two rounds. 

“We had to travel really far to Tokyo, so that jet lag is really no joke,” she said. “And it’s such a fast track that it takes a lot of time to recover from it, because what you’re exerting into the track, you’re also getting back into your body. So the recovery that day was very difficult for me. I tried to kind of cruise the first round, but when I came back to the semis, I was exhausted. I could have fallen asleep on the track if they let me. Just fighting through that was really tough.”

In the final, Thompson-Herah ran away from the field to win in 21.53 seconds and capture the 100-200 double-double for her second straight Olympics. Mboma used a furious closing charge to take silver in 21.81. Thomas fought off Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the great Jamaican champion, to finish third in 21.87 and make the medal stand.

“I’m incredibly happy with how I performed,” Thomas said. 

“It just took a lot of mental strength and a lot of emotional stability to go out there and go through the rounds and keep our performance at the high quality that it was at trials. I was really confident in my ability and how prepared I was, so that I knew that even if I had a bad day at the Olympics, that bad day would be good enough.

“When it came to the actual day of the finals, I dug deep and I fought for that bronze medal. And I got that bronze medal. So I’m really proud of myself.”

She also was happy about the Wonder Woman comparisons inspired by her look, which was partially a nod to Griffith-Joyner’s iconic flamboyance.

“I think one of the most empowering parts of being a female athlete is that we do have this creative opportunity to showcase ourselves in our own way, whether that’s makeup, hair, nails, how we wear our uniforms,” Thomas said. “I am inspired by Flo-Jo’s appearance. I think she used her appearance to empower female athletes and to empower herself, and I admire that.

“I was feeling it that day,” she said. “I was feeling the hair-down look, I was feeling the color and I wanted it to look, you know, a little bit wild, a little bit in the wind.

“It was my Olympic debut,” Thomas said. “I was feeling a little bit like Wonder Woman, if I do say so myself.” 

Now she gets to run wild and free across Europe and Asia on the pro circuit, where she will receive appearance fees as an Olympic medalist besides potential prize money. She also receives a comfortable salary from her shoe sponsor, New Balance, which is featuring her in the next installment of the “We Got Now” campaign. And she remains passionate about working in global health and helping Black people get equal treatment throughout the medical system – but that part of her career will have to wait.

Jesse Washington is a journalist and documentary filmmaker. He still gets buckets.