|Tori Bowie (C) crosses the finish line ahead of English Gardner (L) and Jenna Prandini (R) to win the women's 100-meter at the 2015 USATF Outdoor Championships at Hayward Field on June 26, 2015 in Eugene, Ore.
EUGENE, Ore. -- Tori Bowie is proving that even without the best start in life — or on the track — you can still come out on top.
Bowie needed a closing surge to catch English Gardner and win the 100-meter title at the USATF Outdoor Championships on Friday with a time of 10.81 seconds, tying for second fastest in the world this year behind Olympic and world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica.
Gardner, the 2013 national champion, ran 10.86 to beat former Oregon teammate Jasmine Todd at 10.92.
Bowie qualified for her second world championships team and will compete in Beijing in August. Her first world championships was in a different event — the long jump — and was indoors in 2014.
“I was trying to come out here and execute my start, because I know that’s my weakness,” Bowie said. “And I said, ‘Once I execute the start, the rest of the race will take care of itself.’”
Bowie credits her grandmother for taking care of her off the track.
Bowie was just a toddler when her mother could no longer raise her or her sister. They were turned over to foster care. A year later Bowie’s paternal grandmother, Bobbie Smith, obtained custody and brought them up in tiny Sandhill, Mississippi (whose population is listed as 82).
“My grandmother has a huge…,” Bowie said, searching for the right words. “She’s just been guiding me throughout my entire life. She doesn’t really get to come to many of the meets, but overall she’s really supportive.
“She always told me that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to. And I live by that daily.”
After her race, Bowie, who ran a blistering — although wind-aided — 10.72 seconds in the semifinals – said her family called and she could hear her grandmother in the background. She expected to speak to her after her cool down and drug testing.
Bowie can be forgiven for still getting the hang of the starting blocks. After all, they didn’t have any in Sandhill. They didn’t even have a track.
“It’s a small country town, not well known,” Bowie said. “Not much there. No stoplights. Rural. We always had to practice on just a grass field. It was just getting in shape and going to the meet and running.”
She was primarily a basketball player in high school, then at Southern Miss she was mainly a long jumper, capturing two NCAA titles. After college, her coach recognized her speed and Bowie began sprinting more, in both the 100 and the 200.
Earlier this season, Bowie won the Pre Classic 100 on the same track at Hayward Field with a time of 10.82 to grab the No. 3 world ranking.
Now that she’s leading the cadre of U.S. sprinters at Beijing, does Bowie — who is not long jumping here — consider herself a sprinter first?
“I think I am a long jumper that can sprint well,” Bowie said.
Now she just has to work on that start.
“I’m basically just going to just allow my body to fully recover and slowly start piecing this start together piece by piece by piece,” she said. “It’s slowly coming along. I also want to learn how to transition out of my start. You want it to be smooth, rather than just popping up and start sprinting. I’m slowly becoming comfortable with it.”
Her meet so far is a “complete opposite” to last year, she said.
In the 2014 semifinals at nationals, Bowie posted the fastest time by an American — 10.91 seconds — a personal best. However, she suffered a hamstring injury in the race and did not run the final, which was won by Tianna Bartoletta.
Bartoletta placed fifth Friday in 10.94 seconds, behind Jeneba Tarmoh (10.93) and just ahead of Oregon sprint sensation Jenna Prandini (10.96).
Carmelita Jeter, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, was seventh and fell to the track injured after the race.
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.