Sprinter Tori Bowie dreams of Rio gold
After briefly landing in foster care as an infant, the fastest woman in the U.S. used the rural landscape of central Mississippi as her early training grounds.
“I was always racing, jumping over tires, playing basketball,” Tori Bowie said. “You always wanted to see who could jump the furthest over the ditch.”
While all the leaping over odd items as a child served her well as an NCAA champion in the long jump at Southern Miss, it’s the Rankin County native’s stunning speed that’s put her in a good position to compete for gold in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
Bowie, 25, will seek a spot on Team USA when she begins competition Saturday in the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. She’ll run in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, entering both events as the favorite.
She holds the fastest time in the U.S. this year in the 100 meters (10.80) and 200 meters (21.99). Those two times were good enough to make Bowie the fastest in the world in both events earlier this summer , but she is now second to two of her international competitors. Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast is in first place in the 100 meters at 10.78 and Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands holds the edge in the 200 meters at 21.93.
Tori Bowie holds the fastest times in the U.S. for a female sprinter in the 100 meters (10.80) and 200 meters (21.99)
If Bowie clinches a spot in the Olympics as expected, she will carry with her one of the more remarkable stories of perseverance among the athletes traveling to Rio.
She has carried the title of the “Fastest Woman in the World” off and on for the last two years, an amazing accomplishment for someone from such humble beginnings. She was left at a foster home as an infant before being taken in by her grandmother, who remains extremely close to Bowie.
A native of the tiny community of Sand Hill, Bowie returns home often to see her family. She may now be a world-renowned sprinter, but she’s just another seat at the table when she makes the trip home.
“It’s still the same now,” Bowie said. “I still have to fix my own plate and everything. It’s the same. We talked about becoming the fastest and what it took to stay the fastest – my mom, sister and grandmother. In order to stay where I am now, I still have to stay the same. I think that’s the biggest part of being successful. Don’t lose who you are. The people around you need to stay the same as well.”
Kevin Stephen, USM’s track coach during Bowie’s time there, believes her difficult early circumstances helped make Bowie the hard-nosed athlete she is today.
“She’s very tough,” Stephen said. “She’s not had the easiest life. It would have been easy for her to whine and complain, but she used her circumstances to her benefit.”
Bowie appears to be the U.S. team’s best shot at gold in Rio in the 100 and 200 meters, but she was on the radar of few as a sprinter just a couple of years ago. She made a name for herself as a long jumper at USM, becoming a two-time NCAA champion in 2011, winning the indoor and outdoor titles.
“In college, the long jump was her forte,” Stephen said. “But she’s always had very good speed. She started running the 100 in college and had good times for a college athlete, but she’s on a different level now.”
Bowie has proven a quick study at whatever sport she picked up, but she didn’t fully invest in track until she finished her career at USM in 2012.
“It took for me to get serious for the world to see my potential,” Bowie said. “I was living a certain lifestyle in Mississippi that wasn’t healthy. I was making a lot of bad decisions. I couldn’t stay away from trouble. I felt it was time for me to try something different. I knew I was talented.
“I received an email that talked about the Olympic Training Center (in Chula Vista, Calif.), telling me I could stay there for free. It was the best opportunity for me. I went out there and everything changed.”
I know how it feels to come home with a bronze medal. I want to come home with gold. I won't just lay down for anyone to take it.
Bowie mostly stuck with the long jump after completing her college career at USM, but she joined a 100-meter sprint in 2013 without telling her agent, Kimberly Holland. She ran an 11.14 with very little training in the event.
When Holland saw the footage of the race, she knew Bowie had what it took to excel as a sprinter.
“That’s when I started to really speak to her about working with a sprint coach,” Holland said. “I sent all the sponsors her footage, telling them, ‘This is a girl to watch. She’s going to be major.’ I didn’t really get any hits. Nobody was really biting.”
After Holland convinced Bowie to move away from her passion, the long jump, and focus on sprinting, she has become one of the world’s best women at running out of the blocks. After running an 11.14 in the 100 meters in 2013 at Walnut, Calif., she registered a 10.80 the next year in Monaco.
Bowie has made the most progress this year in the 200 meters, going from a 22.23 last year in New York City to a 21.99 in Eugene earlier this year.
And she has no problem earning sponsors now. She wore the Adidas logo as she ran to a win in the 100 meters in the Doha Diamond League on May 6.
Going for gold
In the biggest race she’s competed in to this point, Bowie won the bronze medal in the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
“I was thankful, but not content,” Bowie said. “I had to just be patient and confident this entire year. I had to be confident knowing that I’m going for gold this year.
“Right now, I feel like everyone is looking to beat Tori Bowie. That makes me do everything I can to get better.”
With a top three finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore., Tori Bowie will earn a spot in the 2016 Rio Olympics, which takes place in August.
Bowie has spent much of the year training with many of the best sprinters in the world at the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla.
It’s been a steady progression for Bowie after arriving at USM as a raw athlete convinced basketball was her sport. She left USM as an NCAA long jump champion, but her biggest act yet could come in August in the 2016 Olympics.
A top three finish in either the 100 or 200 meters in the U.S. Olympic Trials will put Bowie in Rio, but she’ll be less than pleased if she finishes anywhere other than first place in Eugene.
“I know how it feels to come home with a bronze medal,” Bowie said. “I want to come home with gold. I won’t just lay down for anyone to take it.”