In the 2017 Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships, when the Crimson won the women’s event by a four-second margin, the Harvard Athletics’ website deemed the performance “dominant.” Over a year and two Heps wins in the event later—one in the 2017 outdoors and again in the 2018 indoors—junior co-captain Thomas was given the baton in the final leg of the 2018 Outdoor 4x400-meter final, down 2.8 seconds and in fourth place.
With about 30 meters between her and Columbia’s Akua Obeng-Akrofi—a 2016 Olympian for team Ghana and semifinalist in the Commonwealth Games—Thomas wasn’t even the Ivy League Network’s frame as the camera panned to Obeng-Akrofi rounding her turn. Then Thomas jumped to second.
The shot shifted to focus in on the duo, Thomas and Obeng-Akrofi—indoor national champ and Olympian—Obeng-Akrofi desperately trying not to relinquish her lead. Every second though, the gap between the two shrank, Thomas edging ever closer.
“Down 2.8 seconds—all I was thinking about was catching her,” Thomas said. “I didn’t know how many meters away she was, especially seeing as Penn’s track is configured differently than most, so it was just strategy of catching her and securing the win in the 4x4. That’s all I could think about when I was running.”
As the pair rounded the final turn, Thomas nipped at Obeng-Akrofi’s heels. The finish line drew near. Thomas leaned forward, crossing .04 seconds before her competitor. It wasn’t that Obeng-Akrofi had run a slow lap, it was just that Thomas’ 400-meter split was 49.44 seconds—over two seconds faster than the meet record in the 400-meter individual event, a race Thomas didn’t run. The margin of victory between Columbia and the next best finisher, Brown, was just under four seconds.
This victory was one of nine first place medals for Harvard at the 2018 Ivy League Heptagonal Championships, six of which were won in individual events and three in teams. Overall, the women’s team earned second place over the two-day meet, while the men’s team placed sixth. Racing at Penn’s historic Franklin Field, the results mirrored that of the Indoor Heptagonal Championships earlier in the season.
“[We had] a lot of great performances so I’m really proud of the girls,” Thomas said. “We were down in numbers compared to Penn but we knew this going in, so I’m proud that everyone was able to go and fight hard anyway. Lots of PRs and a lot to be proud of even if we got second.”
THE FLORENCE FLASH
Thomas highlighted the weekend, racking up a total of five gold medals for her second consecutive year, one for every event in which she competed. Likewise, the results were good enough to earn her Most Outstanding Track Performer of the Meet for the second consecutive season. Both Thomas and sophomore Simi Fajemisin shared the Most Outstanding Field Performer of the Meet award with Penn’s Ashley Anumba.
As a result of her efforts, Thomas—a Florence, Mass., native—was also named USTFCCCA National Athlete of the Week. The honor marks the first time a Crimson athlete has earned the award since Courtney Smith did so in 2016.
“It’s such an honor to be acknowledged for all of the hard work I put in,” Thomas said. “Especially being from Harvard, a lot of athletes are overlooked. So it is such a great feeling to be recognized because people just don’t see the hard work, just the results. I’m incredibly grateful and so appreciative.”
While the Harvard duo shared the award after the competition, they shared the podium during with both earning spots in long jump. Thomas placed first with a 6.61-meter leap, enough for a new program record, while Fajemisin claimed bronze in 6.01-meter jump. The podium was a familiar place for these two as they did the same thing in 2017, only then Fajemisin placed second, edging out Dartmouth’s Cha’Mia Rothwell. Rothwell this year placed second.
The women’s 100-meter dash final featured four Crimson sprinters: Thomas, freshman Olivia Okoli, junior Ngozi Musa and sophomore Micah Meekins. The junior co-captain found the finish first in 11.27 seconds while Okoli and Musa finished in fourth and sixth, respectively, earning points for Harvard’s total. Sophomore Micah Meekins finished at seventh in 12.07 seconds.
Many of the same faces ran in the 200-meter dash final, among them Thomas, Meekins and Okoli. Thomas grabbed another gold in the event, setting a meet record with a 22.76 first place finish. Meekins claimed third while Okoli placed seventh.
Thomas’ other two gold medals came from relays. In the 4x100-meter relay, Musa, Thomas, sophomore Karina Joiner and Okoli earned the top spot for the Crimson, finishing in 45.16 seconds. The second relay, the 4x400-meter, finished in 3:36.35 and featured sophomore Maya Miklos, Okoli, Joiner and Thomas in the rear. Harvard has now won the event at every one of the last four Heptagonal championships.
PLAYING THE FIELD
Aside from Thomas’ triumphs, the Crimson was successful in the field events of the meet. Mostly taking place on Saturday, with a few carrying over into the second day of competition, Harvard found three gold medals in these events.
Fajemisin repeated her trip to the podium with a first place finish in triple jump. The sophomore leapt 13.00 meters to her third consecutive Ivy League championship. In fact, the only Heps meet during her collegiate career which Fajemisin was not the Ancient Eight champ was the indoor meet of her freshman year. In that meet, she placed second by .03 meters, a jump that broke previous 16-year record in the event. Prior to Fajemisin, the furthest anyone had jumped while wearing the Crimson H was 12.79 meters.
“Being able to win an Ivy championship my senior year, and in my final track meet ever, was a pretty special experience,” Connolly said. “I battled with injuries for much of my time at Harvard, so being able to get healthy and compete to my best ability in my senior season was all I could have asked for.”
Then the Crimson turned to pole vault. On the men’s side, Erick Duffy showed his continual improvement by clearing 5.26 meters to earn a silver medal and etch his name into the Harvard record books with the second best jump in program history. For the women, co-captain Marlena Sabatino placed fourth with a 3.71-meter vault.
RUN FAST, TURN LEFT
The women’s 4x400-meter relay wasn’t the only relay taking golds, as the men’s variant earned its way to the podium in a much less dramatic fashion—beating the next closest competitor by a second and a half. Represented by freshman Rodney Agyare-May, junior co-captain Myles Marshall, freshman Jovahn Williamson and senior Matt Hurst, the group won the event in 3:09.52 seconds with Princeton falling to second.
Three of the quartet advanced to the final in the individual 400-meter dash. Only Marshall absent, all three of the others qualified for the finals with qualifying times in the top four. Williamson clocked the fastest speed in the field of 19 on Saturday and rode that momentum all the way to gold medal at the end of the day on Sunday. Finishing his lap in 47.03, Williamson clocked a school record in the event. Hurst sprinted at his heels, finishing in 47.33 seconds, a personal record and enough for a second place finish on the afternoon. Agyare-May finished in fourth in 47.57 seconds.
“I feel like my performance shows all the hard work that my teammates and I have been putting in this whole season,” Williamson said. “We have worked hard and pushed each other every day in practice for the last eight months, and I believe our results are indicative of that work.”
Marshall, however, ran in the 800-meter race. The junior co-captain ran the second fastest qualifying time on Saturday in 1:49.31. Dropping seven hundredths of a second, Marshall finished the finals race in fourth place, adding to the Crimson’s point total.
The other co-captain, Jay Hebert, also earned fourth on the day. Racing in the 110-meter hurdles, the 14.25-second finish was enough for spot number four on the podium.
Also in hurdles, Joiner arrived in Philadelphia ready to set records. In Saturday’s qualifying races, the sophomore finished the 100-meter hurdles in 13.54 seconds, the second fastest time in program history and her personal best. She bested that time the next day, sprinting to a silver place finish in 13.38 seconds, a program best. Sophomore Livia Gauntlett finished the same race at fourth, in 13.57 seconds.
In the 400-meter hurdles, Joiner broke another personal record en route to her second place finish in 58.86 seconds. Sophomore Maya Miklos finished third with a personal record of her own at 59.85 seconds.
Among the crowded field of long distance racers, two Harvard athletes climbed the podium. In the women’s 1500-meter, junior Kathryn Gillespie earned second place after finishing in 4:22.68 seconds. Freshman Hugo Milner raced in the 5000-meter event and placed sixth. Completing the race in 14:21.78, Milner was the top freshman finisher on the evening.
“As a [men’s] team overall I feel that our results did not show our true potential,” Williamson said. “We were missing a lot of key players going into the meet and did not finish as high as we would have liked, but there were many performances at the meet that show our team is moving in the right direction.”
By virtue of finishing top two in their respective events, 15 Crimson athletes earned All-Ivy honors following the meet. Five earned multiple honors. With her five Heps titles, Thomas was named first team All-Ivy five times. Joiner earned four total mentions as a member of both top finishing women’s relays and her silvers in the 100 and 400-meter hurdle events. Also as a member of both victorious relays, Okoli earned two first team nods. For the men, Williamson earned multiple mentions for his gold in the 400-meter dash and his part in the 4x400 relay. Also on the relay, Hurst was awarded once for the 4x400 and again for placing second in the 400-meter dash.
Fajemisin, Miklos, Musa, Agyare-May, Connolly and Marshall all earned also first-team All-Ivy nods while Gillespie and Duffy were named second team.
—Staff writer Cade Palmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @THC_CadePalmer.
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