Stuart Weir is writing this piece on Nia Ali, the 2016 World Indoor Champ, 2019 World Champ. Nia Ali won the 2023 USATF Champs and has been racing well. Nia Ali will race on Friday, July 21, 2023, at the EBS Herculis Diamond League. The event will be shown on Peacock TV at 1 PM. 

Nia Ali – getting better and better

I was walking back to my seat in the tribune from the media room in Lausanne last month, and there, sitting on the steps, was Nia Ali, having completed her race.  As always, she was friendly, and we chatted.  I said that I tended to associate her with Dawn Harper-Nelson, Brianna Rollins, Sharika Nelvis, Christina Clemons, etc., of whom only she was still running at the elite level.

Defending champion, Nia Ali fell in the 100m hurdles, photo by Kevin Morris, July 23, 2022

It has been an illustrious and long career pausing to have two children along the way.  Now just a few months short of her 35th birthday she is heading for another world championship as US champion.

Initially, she seemed to be better suited to the 60m distance winning the World Indoors in 2014 and 2016.  I was privileged to be there to see both races.  Does that make her an indoor specialist?  Even she is not sure!  “I don’t know.  It’s a tough thing for me to say.  If you look at my outdoor races, I tend to come from behind.  And my indoor times are not that fast.  Looking at my indoor PR, I think I can go a lot faster.  I’m a real fighter, and whatever it takes to win, I do it out there on the track. I just do what it takes.  I had done pretty well for myself indoors, so I guess you could say I’m an indoor specialist”.

Nia took her 2016 indoor form into the Rio Olympics.  At the Portland World Indoors, Nia was first, with Brianna McNeal second.  In Rio, the order was reversed, with Nia taking Olympic silver in 12.59.  She accepts that her Olympic result was a little unexpected: “Probably.  I think at that stage, I had probably only shown what I can do indoors.  I had previously made an outdoor US team but had not made it very far.  So I think it is fair for people to go of what they could see.  But no one sees what you do in training; they can only judge you from races, and I had an up-and-down year, so the judgment is fair.  But I think I’ve proven myself to be a championship performer”.   

Nia Ali, USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships held at Hayward Field, University of Oregon, July 6-10, 2023, by Kevin Morris

If she thought she had proved herself to be a championship performer, she removed any doubt in 2019 when she won the World Outdoors in Doha. She recalled: “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 excited to duplicate that in the final”.

It proved to be a very special time for Nia, quite apart from becoming World Champion in 12.34.  The championship was dubbed “The Year of the Mother,” with Allyson Felix, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and others in the medals. Nia’s partner Andre de Grasse won silver and bronze in the sprints. She told me: “The experience was great.  My best memory was having my family there.  It was great to be out there and support Andre, as I don’t get the chance to do at every meeting, but this time I was there watching him”.

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

She also loved the emphasis on recognizing mothers: “Being a mother is my life!  It’s a lifestyle issue.  I don’t think about it like, ‘I’m doing this as a mother,’ but I like being an inspiration.  And many mothers come to me and ask me about my journey, and I really enjoy talking to them.  I majored in psychology at college, so I’m all about mindset and mental strength.  I really love uplifting mothers and parents in general”.  

Having had the privilege of winning the 2016 World Indoors in her own country – “to be at home, in front of a home crowd on a new track was super exciting” – to defend her outdoor title in Oregon was another exciting prospect.  The excitement did not last long, as she was disqualified for a false start. Ironically in Doha, Nia had watched her close friend, Brianna, suffer the same fate. I remember from Oregon the dignity with which Nia handled what must have been an inexpressible disappointment.

At the US trials this year – aged 34 – she ran 12.53, 12.43 and 12.37.  What would she have run had there been another couple of rounds? And so she is off to another World Championship in the form of her life.  She told World Athletics: “It sounds crazy, but I feel like I am having a late development, if that makes sense. I was NCAA champion back in 2011, but I have learned so much since then. I’m still learning a lot now”.  I can’t help wondering how good she will be when she has learned!