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Natural ability, quiet work ethic propel Gainesville's Ashley Thompson as elite distance runner
Lady Red Elephants junior has number of school records, now shooting for state titles
Ashley Thompson
Ashley Thompson

Ashley Thompson looks at running as the best release of stress that comes with being a high school student. 

The accomplished Gainesville High junior can look at the beautiful architecture of the buildings on historic Green Street and unwind through Wilshire Trail, during her daily workouts, to forget about tests, assignments and beginning the search for which college will eventually be the right fit. 

“I love getting outdoors and have nothing else on my mind but enjoying the beauty of everything,” said Thompson. 

With a natural long stride and slender frame, running comes natural for Thompson, who owns school records across the board in the distance events. 

She’s also a sponge for knowledge, where her Gainesville High distance coach Richard Corbett is happy to help with her training in seeing how far she can take running. 

Gainesville’s co-head coach marvels at Thompson modesty, never asserting herself as the runner to beat when she shows up at a meet. Thompson can just as easily quietly warm up and encourage her teammates, then when it’s her turn, go let loose on the track. 

Instead, Thompson follows a meticulous plan set in place as she approaches the homestretch of the season with region, state sectionals and the state championship meet still on the table. 

Corbett has coached a lot of runners in his 30-plus year career, but said that Thompson is unique for her blend of talent, humility and eagerness to improve. 

“Ashley’s ceiling is through the roof,” said Corbett, who believes Thompson will have ample choices in Division-I programs where she can compete in college. 

Three years into her high school career, Thompson holds the school record in the 1600 meter (5:15), 3200 meter (11:07) and has a personal best in the 800 of 2:26. 

Last month, Thompson took first in two individual races and one distance relay at Hall County. 

However, her goals now are to achieve state greatness, which for Class 7A, is May 13-15 at McEachern High in Powder Springs. Thompson would like to be competitive in both the 1600 and 3200. 

Corbett is already preparing her by aiming to conserve energy at the Region 6-7A championship, then look to get top eight at the state sectionals at West Forsyth. 

And, when it comes time to run at state, Thompson is cleared to let it all hang out. 

Thompson already has the natural ability to win races against some of the fastest girls in the state. 

However, Corbett said, she’s crafty at utilizing the best performance methods, so as to not burn out before it’s time. 

“Ashley is very strategic,” Corbett said. “She’s not going to go all out all the time.”

When it comes to Thompson’s pecking order of best event, she excels at the two-mile run with a long stride and seemingly effortless pace. She wants to be the first girl at Gainesville to ever go under 11 minutes in this race, before graduation in 2022. 

This spring, Thompson broke the school record in the 1600. Early in the season she crossed the line at 5:25, but with a little tweaking to her strategy, she got the time one second under the prior school best. 

They even have Thompson’s top quarter-mile split down, which is currently 63 seconds. 

At region, Thompson will get to race against South Forsyth’s Carmel Yonas, who is the same runner that edged her for the cross country state championship Nov. 6. 

Thompson ran a second-place time of 19-minutes, 5-seconds, even though she lead until Yonas made a late surge to pull ahead. 

Still, Thompson is held up as an example of performance and handling herself with class and grace among the runners at Gainesville High. 

“Ashley shows up every day, is respectful and encourages her teammates,” Corbett said. “She’s a very humble and private person. She doesn’t say very much. I use her as example for everyone on the team.”

Regional events