When Nia Ali steps on the track to defend her world title in the women’s 100m hurdles this week in Eugene, Oregon, she’s got even more on the line than she did in 2019. The 33-year-old sprinter is now a mom to three children and her goal is to take a victory lap around beloved Hayward Field with all three in tow.
“Honestly, we talk about pressure — that’s where all the pressure comes from, like, my children,” Ali said in a recent interview with NBC Sports. “They don’t know what I’m doing. They think it’s all fun and games because when they run, it’s fun. When they race people, it’s fun. When they talk trash, it’s fun. They tell me all the time, ‘You’re not that fast. I will dust you.” And I’m like, ‘Here we go.'”
“I always have to keep in mind their eyes and their viewpoint — that they’re looking at it so innocent and to be able to channel that when I go out there, I’m like, ‘That will be my best approach, just channel it like I am them.’ I mean, they have my DNA. I was once that fearless at some point. I once enjoyed it purely. … They really help me in that, and I want to be able to give back in that experience and have it for all of them.”
Sharing a victory lap with her kids has become a bit of a tradition for Ali, who first took eldest son Titus, now 7, on her celebratory spin after winning the 60m hurdles at the 2016 indoor worlds after earning 100m hurdles silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics. After winning gold in the 100m hurdles at the 2019 Worlds in Doha, she carried then-16-month-old daughter Yuri while Titus skipped, danced and jumped along. Now she’s looking to share a similar moment with 1-year-old son Kenzo.
“Right now, he doesn’t know, but when he gets older, I can guarantee it: The other two will brag about their pictures on the internet, so, I’m really just praying I can get back on that podium and just give my best effort for them.”
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Ali’s inspiration for returning to competition came while watching partner Andre De Grasse, Canada’s reigning Olympic 200m hurdles champion and father to Yuri and Kenzo, compete at last summer’s Tokyo Games.
“I know it’s probably not what most people would expect, but, honestly, I needed that break,” she said. “…Watching Andre compete and just watching so many fast times from people, it gave me the inspiration and the motivation to be able to say, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to get back out there,’ and just constantly find new ways to get better and just up my game.”
Ali, whose season best is 12.49 seconds, faces deep competition from a field that includes reigning Olympic champion, Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, and Tokyo silver medalist and world-record holder Keni Harrison. Oregon22 marks the world championship debut for Camacho-Quinn, a three-time NCAA champion from South Carolina. The 25-year-old has won eight of the nine hurdles races she’s finished this year, including at the Prefontaine Classic in May at Hayward Field. Harrison also won silver at the 2019 worlds and is a five-time national champion.
Competition for the women’s 100m hurdles begins Saturday, July 23, with heats followed by semifinals and the final on Sunday, July 24.
Current women’s 100m hurdles records:
- World record: Keni Harrison, United States, 12.20 seconds, 2016
- World Athletics Championships record: Sally Pearson, Australia, 12.28, 2011
- Hayward Field record: Keni Harrison, United States, 12.24 seconds, 2016