THE 2018 SEASON played out big for Aleia Hobbs. NCAA 60 champion indoors and 100 champ outdoors (plus the anchor on the NCAA-winning 4×1). She became only the fourth woman ever to win an NCAA/USATF 100 double. A total of 7 legal performances under 11-flat, topped by a 10.90. The No. 5 World Ranking and No. 1 in the U.S.
But the next year, not so much. In ’19, her first full season as a pro, she had highs, such as winning the Shanghai Diamond League (in what would be her seasonal best of 11.03) and taking 2nd at Pre. At USATF, though, she finished an out-of-the-money 6th, meaning no berth on the World Champs squad.
What does the former LSU star, recently turned 25, have to do to regain the kind of form that made her nearly unbeatable as a Tiger senior?
“I just need to be healthy,” she says matter-of-factly. “At the end of 2018, I had knee surgery, so I missed my fall buildup. In 2019, my knee was OK, but I had missed so much fall conditioning that I couldn’t run as fast as the year before.”
Hobbs already knew what a grind it could be to come back from surgery. In ’15, after a sparkling frosh year brought her an 11.13 PR, a 6th in the NCAAs and silver at the Pan-Am Juniors, she had her first knee surgery. The next year she only ran a best of 11.34, and didn’t get to the NCAA meet, let alone the Olympic Trials.
Yes, Hobbs knows what a drag it is to have a surgery recovery eat into the work it takes to build a solid base for sprinting. And now, after a subdued pandemic year that saw her run 11.12 for 2nd at the Rome DL, she has frightening news for her rivals.
“I’ll be alright now, because I had a great fall this year.”
Hobbs, a New Orleans native, still trains at LSU with college coach Dennis Shaver, who has guided her since she matriculated to Baton Rouge with prep bests of 11.49 and 23.80. “He’s the reason I got good,” she says of Shaver. “I didn’t want to change anything that works. Plus, this is home for me and I wanted to stay home.”
Among her training partners is former Tiger teammate Mikiah Brisco, a 10.96 performer and former NCAA champion herself. “We complement each other,” she says. “She’s good at the start of the reps and needs a boost to get to the end. I’m good in the end, but I need a lot of help getting going. So we help each other. It’s the perfect workout situation.”
The workout group — like all such teams — faced challenges adapting to the pandemic and the resulting shutdowns, but Hobbs says that relatively speaking, it wasn’t so bad: “They shut down LSU for I think 2 months. We stayed at home and did little things to stay in shape. Eventually we started workouts again at a high school track.
“It was different, but we could do most of our stuff.”
The harder knock was having to delay her Olympic dreams. Yet as time has passed, she is seeing it differently. “It was tough,” she admits. “Because we had been training so hard for that, and all of a sudden, it was gone. But now I think maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We have more time to get ready now. I think it’s all going to work out.”
Training-wise, Hobbs says, not much has changed in her Olympic focus lately, other than pushing more poundage in lifting sessions.
Weight training was an element that had been completely missing from her high school days, but again Hobbs has no complaints. “It was perfect, looking back,” she says. “It wasn’t very intense in high school. We just went to meets and ran. There was no lifting weights, so I was able to step things up nicely when I came to LSU.”
Unlike many of her competitors, Hobbs has done relatively little in the 200. A PR of 22.93 from ’18 is nothing to sneeze at, but with more than 600 women faster than her on the all-time world list, it doesn’t shout out podium potential. She never ran the event in any SEC meet, let alone at the national level.
“It’s because of the knee problems,” she explains. “The running on a curve puts stress on the knee, so we didn’t mess with it much.” Does she even consider it a fallback event for the Trials? She hesitates to answer, before admitting, “I really can’t say. I have no idea.”
That leaves the 100 as the main event in her life and Hobbs is fine with that. Her best of 10.85 dates from ’17, but she is keen to improve on that and feels she has built the fitness background to do so.
Indoors this year, she had a tiny season — just 1½ meets, you might say. At LSU in January, she ran 7.18 after a 7.19 heat, placing 2nd to Brisco. In February at the New Balance GP, she dominated the heats with a 7.10, her second-fastest clocking ever. She was thrown out of the final for a false start, but once she returned home, she realized that she had gotten confirmation that she is on track for a great summer.
“I’m happy,” she says. “That’s the fastest I’ve run in a long time.”
Next up is more training, with an outdoor opener either at the Florida or Texas Relays: “I just can’t say. This year we don’t know where we can go yet.”
Then the Trials in June. “Of course, it’s huge for me,” Hobbs says. “This will be my first Trials, because in 2016 I was still recovering from knee surgery. It’s huge, but I’m going to approach it like any other meet. I have to stick with what works.”
The future is bright and Hobbs says she is in the sport for the long haul: “You bet I am. I’m young, I’m down for everything.”