By BOB YORK
Fast-forward: It’s the button Gabby Thomas always seems to have her finger on.
For close to a decade now, Thomas has been dominating the tempo of track and field’s fast lanes – the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well the 100- and 200-meter relays – on both the prep school and collegiate levels. The former Williston Northampton School standout, who is currently rewriting the Harvard University and Ivy League record books, bid adieu to Williston in 2015 by turning in what Athletic Director Mark Conroy described as “one of the finest performances by a track and field athlete in recent New England Prep School Athletic Council history and perhaps all of Williston’s track and field history.”
What Conroy was referring to was Thomas’s final appearance at a NEPSAC Track and Field Championship when the senior dazzled both contestants and crowd alike by capturing four gold medals on the day. Ironically, the wins in the 100-and 200-meter dashes, the 4X100 relay and the triple jump marked the second consecutive year Thomas won all four events and resulted in her being named the meet’s MVP for a second year in a row.
“Gabby’s tremendous accomplishments in our track and field program make her arguably the most accomplished track and field athlete, … male or female … in our school’s history,” said Conroy. “Beyond her outstanding accomplishments, she too is widely considered by her coaches not only as a fierce competitor, but also as a humble and supportive teammate.”
In other words, Conroy and the rest of the Williston community is not a bit surprised by the amount of success Thomas has achieved on the collegiate level. Entering her junior season at Harvard, she hasn’t missed a step as far as grabbing gold and setting records are concerned. Thomas, who departed Williston with five school records in hand: the 100- (11.74) and 200-meter (24.75) dashes, the 4x100 relay (49.94), long jump (19-5.5) and triple jump (38-2.5), has already made a name for herself with the Crimson.
In just two years on the collegiate level, Thomas has expanded her expertise to the national stage and has done so by being named a first-team All-American following both her freshman and sophomore seasons. Those laurels have followed record-breaking appearances at both the Ivy League Outdoor and Indoor Championships.
“We knew Gabby was going to be good,” said Kebba Tolbert, the Crimson’s associate head coach, “we just didn’t know she was going to be this good, this soon. We figured she would probably be qualifying for the NCAA Championships as a junior … not as a freshman.
“In just two seasons here, Gabby has become a really important part of this program and has made a real difference as far as its success is concerned,” added Tolbert. “She is a very gifted athlete who has a tremendous work ethic, is easy to coach and has taken advantage of the program’s environment.
“By environment, I’m referring to this team’s winning tradition,” explained Tolbert of a program that has captured five consecutive Ivy League titles. “When Gabby came in here as a freshman, she stepped into a winning tradition. As a freshman, she got to train for her running events with a pair of All-Americans. That’s what I mean by environment, having the opportunity to train along side two All-Americans is just a fantastic way to learn … and she’s taken full advantage of the situation.”
The Florence, Mass., native has indeed flourished in such an environment. During two appearances at the league’s Outdoor showcase, Thomas has already chalked up nine first-place finishes and four Ivy League records. She has registered back-to-back wins in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at these Championships and owns the Ivy records in both events with respective times of 11.24 and 22.47. She has also teamed up to help win the 4x100 and 4x400 relays the last two years and aided in clocking league-record times of 44.29 and 3:29.98 respectively in doing so. In the field events, meanwhile, Thomas led the pack in the long jump with a winning leap of 6.27 meters.
This year’s appearance at the Ivy League Indoor Championships proved to be a personal gold rush as well, as Thomas sported first-place finishes in the 60- and 200-meter dashes and setting records in both at 7.38 and 23.7 respectively, as well as the 4x400 relay. She also placed fifth in the long jump. Her time in the 200 qualified her for the NCAA Indoor Championships, where she became the first woman from the Ivy League to ever advance to the 200-meter dash finals at the NCAA Championships, where she placed eighth in 23.25.
“I feel very fortunate in having the opportunity to be a part of such a tremendous institution as Harvard University,” said Thomas, who is majoring in Neurobiology and is hopeful of attending med school following graduation and possibly becoming a pediatrician. “This school has allowed me to partake in the best of both worlds. It has allowed me to obtain a tremendous education, while allowing me to be the best I can be as a runner.”
As a freshman, Thomas collected five gold-medal performances at the Ivy’s Indoor event, leading the way in the 60- and 200-meter dashes, the 4x100 and 4x400 relays as well as the long jump. She wound up sixth in the triple jump. Combined, Thomas has registered an astounding eight first-place finishes in 10 events.
Thomas culminated her rookie campaign by earning an invite to compete in the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the U.S. Olympic trials in July of 2016. In the 200, she won her opening heat in 22.91 and trimmed the clock to 22.72 in the semifinals and wound up sixth in the overall event, but only the top three finishers qualify for the Olympic team. Her time of 11.35, meanwhile, gave her a 26th place finish in the 100-meter dash.
“Receiving an invitation and competing in those Olympic trials was certainly one of the highlights of my track career,” said Thomas, whose sixth-place finish in the 200-meter dash certainly put her on the Olympic team’s radar. “It was such a thrill to have an opportunity to compete both with and against so many outstanding athletes … it was truly a motivating experience."
The Harvard junior’s lengthy dominance in track and field can be attributed to the fact that Thomas was introduced to the sport during her time spent at Williston’s middle school, thus giving her the opportunity to begin a varsity career as a seventh grader. Despite the fact that she often found herself competing against girls who were as much as six years older than she was, she still held her own.
“I came to Williston primarily as a soccer player,” said Thomas, who finished third in the 100-meter dash at the New England Prep School Athletic Council Track and Field Championships as a seventh-grader and then proceeded to win the event for the next five years. “My mother wanted me to try out for the track team. She thought I’d do well … I guess she was right.”
By now, most sprinters know her mother was right and by the time Thomas moved on from the prep school ranks, she was an 11-time NEPSAC champion. Among her conquests were those five consecutive 100-meter dash crowns, the last of which she won by shattering her own NEPSAC record with a time of 11.71. That time was also good enough to put her in the Top 20 100-meter times run throughout the country during the spring of 2015. Other track accolades tossed at Thomas’s feet upon her departure from Williston were her being a six-year letter winner as well as a five-time team MVP.
“Gabby’s left a lasting legacy in track and field here,” said Chris Pelliccia, the Williston girls’ coach. “What she accomplished here and is now accomplishing at Harvard should serve as an inspiration for others to see what’s possible if you work hard."
“In addition to an incredible work ethic and an abundance of athletic ability, I think the key to Gabby’s success is her stride,” added Pelliccia. “She has an explosive start that allows her to quickly build up her speed and from there to the finish line, she combines a quick, smooth, efficient and powerful stride to put her in front and keep her there.”
Thomas, in turn, is very appreciative of how Williston supplied her with the building blocks to become an outstanding student and the starting blocks to help her become an out standing runner.
“When I enrolled at Williston as a seventh grader, I just could never have imagined that I’d be so successful … not only in track but in the classroom, too,” said Thomas, who was also heavily recruited for both her brain and her brawn by Duke and Stanford. “I owe so much to the coaching staff that constantly pushed you to do better than you thought you could do.
“As for the teachers,” added Thomas, “I’m so thankful they taught me about time management, it’s a must at any college or university, but particularly in an Ivy League school classroom.”
To get to where she’s gotten, time management has been a must for Thomas in track, too.
The NEPSAC SPECIAL NEWS is sponsored by Scoreboard Enterprises. Scoreboard Enterprises is a Sports Technology Company and exclusive Daktronics dealer in the New England area. We provide, install and service scoreboards, video displays and audio systems designed specifically for athletic facilities. Contact us for more information at www.scoreboardenterprises.