Nia Ali

Statistician Mark Butler sent me his predictions for Paris at Christmas. It was a fascinating list, which I will keep and check later.  One prediction that caught my eye was Nia Ali to win the 100h.  Nia is a great hurdler, but come Paris, she will be nearer to her 36th birthday than her 35th.  Incidentally, if Mark is right, it will be quite a celebration in her household as he has Andre De Grasse down to win the men’s 200.

I had two encounters with Nia last year.  At the Athletissima in Lausanne, I left my seat during the program for a coffee or something, and Nia was sitting on the steps up to the stand (or bleachers, if you prefer).  As always, she was happy to chat.  Our second meeting was at a sponsor’s event in Zurich.

USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023

2023 was a mixed year for Nia. She was the US champion with 12.37, reached the final of the World Championship, finishing seventh, and reached the Diamond League final, again finishing seventh.  The race of the year was in the Monaco Herculis Diamond League, in which four Americans finished sub 12.40.  Nia was the winner with a world-leading Diamond League record, a personal best of 12.30.  She was pretty pleased afterwards: “I feel amazing, it was a PB for me it is the first time I win in a Diamond League. I cannot believe it, and it is lovely to have won here in Monaco, which is a beautiful place, and I really enjoy myself here. I am so happy I could give the best of myself here today. I started very fast and then in the middle of the race I told myself ‘do not fall asleep’. I really fought for it because I felt myself a bit behind at the last hurdle, but then I just attacked the finish line and won my best win. My objectives now for the rest of the season are to stay healthy and try to improve my technique. I know that Budapest will be a very strong competition and a fast race, so I look forward to the challenges”.  Yeah, right.  You have just run at 12.30, and your first thought is to improve your technique!

 

Nia Ali and Andre De Grasse, Zurich Weltklasse, photo by Welktlasse

 

Nia has proved to be a championship competitor, winning the World Indoors in 2014 and 2016.  She has competed in five World Championships, winning in Doha in 2019 in 12.34, reaching the final in 2017 and 2023, and being a semi-finalist in her first in 2013.  The one big disappointment was Eugene, 2022, when she falsely started in the prelim. In her only Olympics – 2016 – she was second in a US 1-2-3, behind Brianna Rollins and ahead of Kristi Castlin.

Nia Ali, 100m hurdle champ, Mom of 3, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, photo by Kevin Morris

It’s not a bad collection of titles for someone who started off as the distance runner and, having played basketball wondered if she should try high jump!

Her first two medals were indoors, which left her sometimes written off as an indoor specialist.  She told me: “I had done pretty well for myself indoors, so I guess you could say I’m an indoor specialist, but if you look at my outdoor races, I tend to come from behind.  And my indoor times are not that fast.  I’m a real fighter, and whatever it takes to win, I do it on the track.  I think I just do what it takes”.

Nia Ali wins the Doha 2019, photo by World Athletics.

The Rio Olympics was an opportunity to prove the doubters wrong: “At that stage, I had probably only shown what I could do indoors.  I had previously made an outdoor team but did not make it very far [Moscow World Championship semi-final]. So, I think it is fair for people to go of what they could see.  But I think I’ve proven myself to be a championship performer.  You can’t ever count me out, but you may not know where I will finish”.

Nia Ali, Doha 2019, photo by World Athletics

Winning in Doha was perhaps a surprise but also the culmination of hard work and experience: “I had been to the 2013 and 2017 world championships – outdoors – but I had not medalled.  So, my aim was just to get on the podium.  I thought if I shoot for gold, hopefully I’ll come in the top three.  So, my main goal was to fight to get on the podium.  I always knew I had it in me, but going through the rounds showed me how fit I was.  It just seemed to be clicking, so my main goal was just to stay focused and hope that everything fell into place.  It did, even running a personal best.  My best performance ever.  I also had a PR in the semi when I felt I was stepping off the gas a little at the end, and I was really excited to be able to duplicate that in the final”.

She told me that the original appeal of the hurdles was “the idea of running full speed and jumping over something was exhilarating, and having tried it, I just wanted to get better.” She seems still to be getting better.

Nia is also mom to two children and in part 2 she talks about family life as an elite runner.

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