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Three Women's Track and Field Athletes Capture All-American Awards

By Cade Palmer, Crimson Staff Writer

Doing what she does best, sophomore sprinter Gabby Thomas arrived at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships and etched her name into the record books again. Coming close to her own—and consequently the school’s—200-meter sprint record, she advanced to the finals in the event. Thomas is the first student athlete from any Ivy League school to do so at the meet.

For the group of Harvard representatives, the meet was a successful one overall, with three participants placing in the top 11 of their respective events and those same three going home with All-American awards. Donning the crimson and white were four representatives from the women’s team. Two freshmen made an appearance with Zoe Hughes in the pentathlon and Judy Pendergast in the 5000-meter. Veterans senior Nikki Okwelogu and Thomas suited up for the shot put and the 200-meter, respectively.

Thomas had the most successful outing of the group. Running the semi-finals in the fourth and last heat of the 200-meter sprint, the sophomore knew prior to the race that she had to clock a 23-second sprint to advance to a round untouched by any from the Ancient Eight. As is characteristic of the runner, she rose to the occasion. Clocking a time just .01 seconds behind her 200-meter sprint record, Thomas advanced with a time of 22.89.

“The biggest goal I have is my mindset,” Thomas said. “It can be intimidating to be an underdog competing against schools that are known to form such powerful sprinters, so just constantly reminding myself that I need to work hard where I am to earn my spot next.”

The second day would not be as fruitful for the Florence, Mass., native. Running in the second heat of the finals for the race, Thomas ran 23:35 to place fourth in her heat, and eighth overall. It was Ariana Washington, a representative from the University of Oregon, that won the event with a time of 22:42. With the eighth place finish, Thomas claimed her a first team All-American recognition. The honor is the second of her career at Harvard. The sophomore also took home first team All-American honors in the outdoor variation of the event during the 2016 season.

Not just a great runner, Thomas also exceeds as a leader for the team.

“Gabby is the person on the team that I look up to the most,” said freshman sprinter and teammate Micah Meekins. “She is always pushing us to do our best and work our hardest so that we can all achieve our goals. I aspire to as great as she is and to be much as an influence to future runners as she has been to me. She has been a role model to me and is always there when I need encouraging words and advice on running.”

Representing Harvard in the pentathlon was Hughes, only the second athlete in school history to don the crimson and white in the event at the NCAA Indoor Championships. The freshman was only one of three rookies competing in the event and placed 10th overall with 4089 points. The score represents the third best in Harvard’s history. Along the way to the tenth place finish, the freshman broke personal records in both shot put and the 800-meter run. In shot put, she placed third overall with a personal best throw of 12.73 meters. In the 800, the feat was repeated with a 2:19.81 run. For her efforts, Hughes took home second team All-American honors.

The other rookie did not fare as well. Starting out her race in the front group, Pendergast fell behind as the race progressed due to an injury. Following the race, she was rule to have impeded a runner and was subsequently disqualified from placing. This unfortunate event for the runner is particularly tragic considering her first place run at the Ivy League Heptagonal Championships. With the time she clocked in that race, a 16.07.26, the freshman would have placed 13th in the event.

In contrast to the new faces of freshmen at the meet, was veteran Okwelogu. Appearing in her third straight NCAA Indoor Championships, the senior was more weathered than most. For Okwelogu, it was her first throw in shot put that would be her best. With a toss of 16.13 meters, she claimed the eleventh position on the leader board and a second team All-American award. For the senior, the makes three All-American mentions total. Okwelogu is the first woman in program history to achieve the feat.

The successful NCAA Indoor Championships only cap off an even more successful indoor season for the women’s track and field team. The Harvard women’s team sent its largest group of athletes to the Indoor Championships ever, with four. Coincidentally, the same number of records fell this season at the hands of the women’s team. Thomas took down the records in both the 60-meter and 200-meter dashes as freshman Simi Fajemisin broke records in the triple jump and long jump. The celebrations will be short lived though, as the outdoor season has already begun. With it begins again the long trek towards another appearance at NCAA Championships.

—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at cade.palmer@thecrimson.com.

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Track and Cross Country