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Olympic Sprinter Aleia Hobbs’ Life Changed in the NICU

So far in 2023, Aleia Hobbs became the second-fastest 60m sprinter in history and has gone undefeated in indoor and outdoor track races, becoming one of the women to watch ahead of August’s world championships and the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Hobbs, an Olympic 4x100m relay silver medalist in Tokyo, discussed her goals for Paris, the U.S. women’s 100m picture and her deep Louisiana roots. The New Orleans native and former LSU standout also details the phone call that changed her life and her experience being a new mom after adopting son Amir last June,

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Olympic Talk: How did you get your start in track and field?

Aleia Hobbs: It all started with me running from a dog. I was getting out of a church van, and someone said there was a dog. Everyone else got back in the van, and I took off running. I don’t even remember what kind of dog it was. I just saw that it had four legs, and I didn’t like it, so I took off running. After that, everyone was coming up to me and telling me I was fast. I was a kid, so I didn’t think much of it. A couple of days later, one of the booster moms came to my house and asked me if I wanted to run track.

My very first race, I was just gone. Every race after that I was just running, beating everybody. I’ve been running ever since then.

Do you remember when you first fell in love with the sport?

Hobbs: The first time I got on the track. I did AAU track when I was 9. I remember winning all of the Junior Olympic races and having all of these records at 11 and 12. I do have a different style. I had a big mohawk, an afro and braids when I was younger, and people would always remember me. At meets, people of all ages — kids and adults — would come up to me and ask for pictures and autographs, and that made a big difference.

You turned pro in 2018. Did you ever imagine as a kid that this would be your life? When did becoming a professional athlete become a dream for you?

Hobbs: No. I didn’t think that at first. I was just running to run. High school is when it really hit. I started knowing what things were and realizing how fast I actually was. I didn’t have a plan to go pro or anything at that time. My goal was to get to college. I got that done, and it was when I was in college that I realized I could go pro.

My freshman year of college, I ran 11.13 (seconds for the 100m, ranking third in the world among U20 women). I was seeing pros around me because we had a pro group at LSU, but it didn’t really hit me until I ran 10.85 my junior year (ranking fifth in the world among all ages). I had (microfracture) knee surgery after my freshman year. My sophomore year I didn’t run that fast at all, so I wasn’t really thinking about that. It was after that 10.85 that I knew if I really locked in and did what I needed to do, it could happen. Going into my senior year, I had a whole different mindset. I knew how the game went and how important consistency was. I didn’t lose a 100m race at all my senior year.

Fast forward to the Tokyo Olympic Trials. What exactly happened with the false start in the semifinals? Before you even walked off the track, the tears were flowing.

Hobbs: I was having a great season that year. I was consistently running 10.9, so I knew going into that race I was ready. It was my first Olympic Trials because I’d had knee surgery. I felt like everything I did that year — the consistent times — went down the drain. That was my very first thought, and once I had that thought, that’s when the tears came.

You were able to run the final under protest. How many minutes before the race did you find out? What do you remember thinking before and after the race?

Hobbs: I sat there and cried for I don’t know how long, then I finally went to the back and got my stuff. I sat there and cried for 10 minutes, then one of my teammates came and got me. I found my coach and agent, and they were telling me to keep on warming up because they were going to protest. I was trying to stay warm and jog, but I was crying hard. I felt like I could barely move my body.

Mentally I was trying to stay in it because I knew there was a possibility (that I could run), but it was hard because I knew what happened. All the tears were draining my body. I kept asking my coach and agent if they heard anything, and they said no. The final was about to start, and they told me to just come to the call room, where I was just sitting and waiting. The officials walked all of the other athletes out to the track, and at that point I started crying again because I was thinking, if they still haven’t called my name, I’m not running.

I’m sitting in the call room by myself, and then about two to three minutes after the officials went to the track, they told me I could run. I jumped up, put my shoes on and ran onto the track. I didn’t have a bib because after I got disqualified I ripped it off. They ended up finding me one and using a paper holder to pin it on me.

At this point, everyone is standing in the blocks ready to run. My nerves were getting bad, and I was trying to calm down and get into that racing mindset. When I ran onto the track, everybody started cheering, but it was hard. I finished seventh. I was so upset, but I was happy that I was able to actually run despite all of that. I knew I didn’t run what I could have ran.

Editor’s Note: The top six in the 100m usually make the Olympic team for the 4x100m relay pool. Hobbs was upgraded to sixth after original winner Sha’Carri Richardson was disqualified after testing positive for marijuana. Hobbs got on the Olympic team for the relay.

Walk me through your experience in Tokyo.

Hobbs: When I got the Team USA kit, I was like, “Wow, I’m really on the team!” It was different because of COVID. Everybody that had been to an Olympics before told me that it wasn’t the full experience.

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