LSU's Thomas Takes the Next Step

The first time LaTavia Thomas felt the rubber of the track beneath the soles of her feet she was only four years old and she quite literally felt the rubber.

“The first race I ever ran was the 800 meters and I ran to get a t-shirt,” Thomas said. “My shoe came off half-way through, but I finished the race because I wanted that shirt so badly,”

She has been running ever since, but to her family, that comes as no surprise. The talent runs in the genes.

Growing up in Philadelphia as the daughter of two college track athletes, track was more than a sport or a hobby – it was a way of life. Family events were often surrounded by a track meet or a competition the family was traveling to.

The middle distance runner remained highly competitive throughout her high school career at West Catholic High School in Philadelphia.

Thomas held the fastest 800-meter mark in the nation as a senior in 2006, finishing the distance with a top time of 2 minutes, 7.92 seconds. She led her team to the indoor state championship for three consecutive years from 2004-06 and garnered numerous personal awards. Also a standout in summer club track, Thomas caught the eye of many college track coaches from across the country, including LSU head coach Dennis Shaver.

At the conclusion of her star-studded high school career, Thomas was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 800 meters. But it wasn’t just Thomas’ speed on the track that drew Shaver to her. It was also her inspiration.

“Watching her in high school, she made big contributions when the team needed it most,” Shaver said. “She was the person the team could always count on to come through. That is so critical where so often track can be looked at as an individual sport. She knows what it means to be a team.”

That talent and team mentality would soon land Thomas in Baton Rouge.

Thomas has remained true to her competitive nature since her arrival at LSU, and her drive has made her a force to be reckoned with. The talented freshman distinguished herself as one of the top young 800-meter runners in the country a year ago, earning distinction as the 2007 Southeastern Conference Freshman Runner of the Year while sweeping SEC Indoor and Outdoor titles in the event.

She also made her first career appearance in the 800 meters at both the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Championships while clocking a new personal best of 2:03.89.

By the end of her first year at LSU, it was clear why Thomas was the top freshman in the SEC. While also running on the Lady Tigers’ dominant 4x400-meter relay team, Thomas became an NCAA Champion, NCAA Mideast Regional Champion, All-American and was a three-time SEC Champion and All-SEC performer.

Thomas has taken her performance to the next level in 2008 as she became the first Lady Tiger to be crowned NCAA Champion in the 800 meters since LSU great Marian Burnett in 2002 with a gold-medal winning performance at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in March.

The rest of the nation took notice as Thomas dominated University of California standout Alysia Johnson – the reigning NCAA Indoor and Outdoor Champion – in the final.

Thomas has also continued her domination in the 800 meters at the conference level in 2008 as she has swept SEC Indoor and Outdoor titles for the second straight year.

“Since I’m on a good track now, I just want to keep improving,” Thomas explained. “Even if I don’t win every race, I’m satisfied as long as I know it was a better time than I ran before. I also want to run well enough to help my team win. That’s always the goal.”

With all of the accolades and experience she has earned in her short career at LSU, the past two seasons have pushed the ambitious Thomas toward the next level. Always pushing herself against a higher level of competition, the energetic sophomore looks to make her mark among the world’s elite as she hopes to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials during the summer of 2008.

“She is a very graceful runner and is still very young,” Shaver said. “She gets stronger physically as each year passes, and she is going to grow into a very competitive international 800-meter runner. She has all the potential in the world.”

While taking barefoot steps on the track as a young child to now competing internationally, Thomas does what she can to outdistance the competition. And all eyes are watching to see her take the next step.