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'I'm still in disbelief': Track sensation Gabby Thomas talks about chasing her Olympic dream

Thomas is a Harvard grad who endured a health scare. Now, she has her eyes on history.
/ Source: TODAY

Don’t blink. You may miss Gabby Thomas.

Last weekend, the sprinter nearly etched her place in record books when she qualified for the Tokyo Olympics by winning the women’s 200-meter at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon.

Thomas left everyone else in the dust.Andy Lyons / Getty Images

She notched the third-fastest time ever in the race when she clocked in at 21.61 seconds during the finals Saturday, behind only the legendary Florence Griffith Joyner, who twice posted faster times during the 1988 Summer Olympics — including a world record 21.34 seconds — according to NBC Sports.

“Everything’s just kind of hitting me right now. I’m still in disbelief,” she told TODAY on Tuesday about her performance. “I’ve been working really hard, so I’m not entirely too surprised in running fast, but that fast was unexpected for me.”

Thomas, 24, has long imagined becoming an Olympian. And the reality matched the hype.

“It definitely lived up to what I expected," she said. "It’s been a long journey. It’s been years of patience and following my own path, so to have it all come together in that moment was so surreal.”

Thomas may be one of the athletes to watch at the Tokyo Olympics, but she is so much more than that. She is also a Harvard graduate studying for her master’s degree in epidemiology. Was there ever a point where she was overwhelmed by her studies and her training?

Thomas relishes the thrill of victory in the women's 200m final.Andy Lyons / Getty Images

“Yeah, I definitely had a few of those moments, especially freshman year,” she told Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb.

She said she credits her mother with keeping her focused on her goals.

“I’ve had many phone calls with my mom during that time where I was thinking, ‘You know, I might just not do track anymore,’ and that was OK with me,” she said. “I thought it may have been too much for me to handle, but she told me to push through and that I would just be OK and to do it and I’m really glad that I listened to her.”

Florence Griffith Joyner, seen here competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, is the only woman to ever top Thomas' performance in women's 200m.David Madison / Getty Images

Thomas also said having to pursue her education and track and field taught her important lessons.

“Being in school really makes me appreciate what I am doing on the track,” she told Runner’s World. “Being able to compartmentalize two different things that I love doing really makes you appreciate the time that you love doing it.”

Thomas has also had to overcome adversity. While getting an MRI a few weeks ago for a hamstring injury, doctors found a tumor in her liver. Tests revealed it was benign. She decided to make a pact with God not to let any opportunity pass her by.

“During that time, Olympic trials were coming up and I was just thinking if I make it out of this healthy, I’m going to do everything I can to live my life to the fullest, and that included making the team and winning the championship,” she told TODAY.

Thomas also said she’s excited to join a team with one of her childhood heroes, Allyson Felix, the track superstar who qualified for her fifth Olympics last week.

"That is one of the best parts about it," she shared. "I was first introduced to track by Allyson Felix. My mom told me to turn on the TV — I think it was the 2012 Olympic trials, so almost 10 years ago now. So to be on the same team as her is such a dream come true. I really can't believe it. It's so special."