Everywhere she goes, Ashley Thompson is growing more comfortable being the talk of the town.
Family and friends have been pouring praise on the Gainesville High junior, after she won the 3200-meter state championship for Class 7A on Friday.
And now, strangers are even extending kind words to the soft-spoken Lady Red Elephants distance-running standout, who won the race with a time of 10 minutes, 59.11 seconds at McEachern High.
“I don’t feel like it’s really sunk in yet that I won the state championship,” said Thompson, who also set a personal-best time (5:08.50) and was fourth in the 1600 at state. “It feels like a lot of people know me now who I’ve never met before.”
Gainesville co-head coach Richard Corbett thinks Thompson is just scratching the surface of her potential with another full season of cross country and track and field in 2021-2022.
“Ashley is a true professional in the way she handles herself,” Corbett said. “I don’t have to check on her to make sure she’s doing the workouts. She does things the right way.”
Once it was finished at state, Thompson stood atop the podium with a grin from ear to ear, slowly processing the fact that her dream of winning a state championship came true.
Since it was the final event of the day, Corbett said they were able to take time snapping pictures and chatting with Gainesville’s first girls individual state champion in track since Katie Dubnik won the 1600 state championship in 1996.
Thompson said after the race, family, friends and about 15-20 team members were around to cheer on her state-championship moment.
She said thoughts were racing a million miles a minute after claiming the two-mile state title in what turned out to be dramatic fashion.
Mainly, it helped build up her confidence with a championship in her first time running at the state meet.
“Winning the state championship has definitely made me more focused,” Thompson said. “I see now that all the hard work has paid off.”
And the race itself was one that neither Thompson or anyone on hand will soon forget.
After leading the pack for much of the final mile, Thompson found herself about 10-15 yards back of the lead for the start of the final lap.
That’s when the training from Corbett kicked in and Thompson gave it everything she had left for the sprint to the final line.
And it was close.
Thompson won the race by .04 seconds ahead of Hillgrove’s Lizzy Smith and two seconds clear of Hillgrove’s Ava Brooks.
The controversy took place near the finish line when Thompson was elbowed by Smith — which Gainesville’s runner said could have been unintentional — right before hitting the end of the race.
Corbett said when he saw what transpired, he was coming to contest the decision at the finish line, after seeing the contact on his runner.
However, a review wasn’t necessary.
Thompson won the race outright.
And she couldn’t have been happier.
“I had no idea I would be able to catch her at the end,” Thompson said. “I just trusted my training and gave it everything that I had.”
If anything, winning the state championship makes Thompson want to train even harder.
The same field she competed against in the 3200 at state is almost all expected to be back next season, vying for the state championship.
However, Thompson said she’s ready for the challenge.
“Winning makes me really want to keep getting better,” Thompson said.