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Gabby Thomas became the second-fastest woman in world history on Saturday at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field by winning the U.S. Olympic Trials 200-meter final in a blazing 21.61 (+1.3). This will be her first Olympic team.
“I’m speechless, I don’t know,” she said to NBC’s Lewis Johnson immediately following the race. “I’ve been working really hard.”
Only Florence Griffith Joyner has ever run faster; the world record holder ran 21.34 and 21.56 in 1988.
The 24-year-old Thomas had a serious health scare in May when doctors found a tumor in her liver.
“At first, I wasn’t too worried about it, but the more I started talking to doctors, the more they started saying the word ‘cancer,’” she says. “Trials were just a couple of weeks away and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to be in a good headspace here, to be able to perform knowing that I could possibly have cancer.
“Fortunately, they found out it was benign just a couple days before I left, so I came in with a clear mind, clear headspace. I remember telling God, ‘If I’m healthy, I will go out and win Trials. If this is not cancer, I am going to make this team,’ and that’s exactly what I did and I’m really grateful.”
After placing fifth in the 100-meter final a week ago, Thomas has been on a roll in the 200 meters. She set a world lead of 21.98 in the first round, which she improved to 21.94 in yesterday’s semi-final.
She led the fastest race in Olympic Trials history.
Behind her, former Oregon Duck Jenna Prandini ran 21.89, the second-fastest time in the world this year, to make her second Olympic team. Her time is the 10th-fastest in U.S. history. Ohio State’s Anavia Battle, who was just third at the NCAA outdoor championships, ran 21.95 to take third and make her first Olympic team. Tamara Clark of Alabama was the fastest fourth-place finisher ever in 21.98.
“I am still in shock,” Thomas said of the historic race. “I cannot believe that I put up that time. I’m sure my coach is not surprised, but I really was. I just want more for myself now. I’m going to have to start thinking about different goals, different dreams. This was my dream. My dream was to make the Olympic team, not even to win Olympic Trials, not even to break the meet record. Now that I’ve accomplished those as well, I’m just gonna set higher goals and I’m excited about that.”
Thomas is currently pursuing a master’s degree in epidemiology at the University of Texas and trains in Austin under coach Tonja Buford Bailey. This will be her first Olympics. As a freshman at Harvard, she placed sixth in the 200-meter final at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. She graduated with a degree in neurobiology in 2019, signed a contract with New Balance, and moved to Austin.
Runner-up Prandini also trains in Austin, but under current University of Texas coach Edrick Floreal.
After rallying to make her fifth Olympic team in the 400 meters, 35-year-old Allyson Felix placed fifth in the 200-meter final.
“Today was about soaking it all in,” Felix said, emotional after the event that she won at these Trials in 2004 to make her first Olympic team. “I feel a mix of all emotions. I’m really excited to be going to Tokyo. There’s a part of me that’s sad because this has been my life for so long.”
The legend was full of praise for the women who will represent the U.S. in Tokyo.
“I think it was amazing,” she said of Thomas’ win. “She’s been getting better and better every single round. We have such a strong 200 team that we’re sending.”
Thomas said making her first Olympic team alongside Felix, her role model in the sport, made the accomplishment more special.
“I remember my first time watching a track meet was watching Allyson Felix, it had to be 10 years ago now, the 2012 Olympic Trials,” Thomas said. “To be making a team with her and running that fast, I really cannot believe it. I feel empowered. I feel like if I can do it, anyone can go out and do it and make it happen.”
The post-pandemic season has been noteworthy for American women’s sprints. Along with Thomas’ all-time mark tonight, Trials 100-meter champion Sha’Carri Richardson has come within a tenth of a second of Griffith Joyner’s world record in that event.
Rumors of performance-enhancing drug use followed Griffith Joyner throughout her career, though the three-time Olympic gold medalist never failed a drug test.
Before this weekend, Thomas had never even broken 22 seconds before. Asked about Griffith Joyner’s 21.34 world, she paused and laughed in disbelief at the effort she had just laid out on the track.
“I don’t want to put a limit on myself so I’m not gonna say it’s unattainable,” Thomas said.
Editor’s Note: This story is part of our 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials coverage. You can find all of our stories here.