BUDAPEST, Aug 21 (Reuters) – American Nia Ali defied expectations when she raced to a silver medal in the 100-metre hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympics barely a year after becoming a mother, and did it again when she won a world title after the birth of her second child.
Ali is now a mother of three and, armed with the world’s fastest time this season, is favourite for gold at the World Championships.
She would love nothing better than to shatter some more pre-conceived notions.
“When I first did it, there weren’t many sprinters, if any, who had (returned after childbirth), so it was a lot of mentions of ‘career suicide,'” Ali told Reuters.
“So I was like: okay, something that people haven’t seen, but I think I can do it.”
The women’s 100-metres hurdle heats are on Tuesday and the field includes champion and world record-holder Tobi Amusan, with the Nigerian cleared to race by a disciplinary tribunal after she had been charged with missing three drug tests during a 12-month period.
“I look forward to seeing her on the start line,” Ali said of Amusan. “All the better for us as it means faster times.”
Ali projected a powerful image when she went on a victory lap after winning the worlds in Doha in 2019, with daughter Yuri cradled in her arms, son Titus jogging alongside and an American flag draped around her shoulders like Superwoman’s cape.
She gave birth to son Kenzo two months before the delayed Tokyo Olympics took place in July and August 2021, where her Canadian partner Andre De Grasse raced to gold in the 200m.
She is aiming for another victory lap – this time with all three children in tow – in Hungary, and said it is those moments that inspire her to keep competing.
“That’s my favourite thing to do, honestly,” the 34-year-old, who won last month’s U.S. championships, said.
“It’s kept me in the sport so long because I have so many goals for myself and to leave any stone unturned would be doing an injustice.
“I do consider myself a role model for my children. Everyone else is just a bonus. If they choose to look at me that way that’s pretty cool, but it’s not why I do it.”
Ali and De Grasse had a rough 2022 worlds in Eugene. She hit a hurdle and crashed out of the heats. He was struck by COVID a month before the meet and did not make it past the semi-finals in the 100, and withdrew from the 200. He rebounded in fantastic fashion to anchor Canada’s 4×100 relay to gold.
Ali said having a partner in the sport makes the difficult times easier to bear.
“It’s so good, honestly, because we’re able to be completely transparent and honest with each other,” she said. “We have so many people around us, be it close friends, be it other people who we trained with in the past or just anybody who tells you what they think you need to hear.
“And there’s just no panic button pressed between the two of us, it keeps everything even keel.”
De Grasse, who has six Olympic medals and five world championship medals, has struggled this season to overcome a nagging foot injury. He did not qualify for the 100 at worlds and only dipped under the qualifying standard for the 200 on the very last day possible, in winning the Canadian championships.
“I was super proud,” Ali said. “Honestly, I could see the shift in training once a few things were kind of figured out. I think he’s definitely ready for something to drop, like this is literally the beginning of his season.”
The 28-year-old De Grasse, whose 200 heats are Wednesday, said Ali is a “huge source of inspiration” for himself and many others.
“It’s amazing to witness her running the best times of her career after having three children,” he told Reuters.
“And then to win the U.S. title this summer, she’s showing the world that anything is possible.
“I’m so proud of her.”
Reporting by Lori Ewing, editing by Pritha Sarkar
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