Tori Bowie is early for her interview, but that’s no surprise—as the fastest woman in the world, she’s used to being first. As a 3-time Olympic medalist and the winner of the recent IAFF World Championships in London, Bowie is one of the few Instagram stars who can post #winning and actually mean it. But her victories aren’t just on the track, as this New York Fashion Week will prove. After starring in the last Valentino campaign (!) with runway veterans like Selena Forrest, the 27-year-old will appear at various shows and maybe even appear on some catwalks. (Stay tuned…)
We met the Mississippi native before her latest fashion gig to find out about gym makeup, mind games, and how to work out when you’re feeling sick.
You’re ranked as the fastest woman in the world. Did you always know you’d be a champion?
Not at all. I think I first realized that I had the potential to be good in college. It wasn’t until then. Before that, I was really lazy. I hadn’t matured yet; you know what I’m saying? I didn’t really want to put the work in.
I think what sparked me to put in the work is when I went to the World Championships in 2014.
But if you’re at the World Championships, aren’t you already the best?
No. I mean, I made the team. I was there to do a long jump. I was ranked number one in the world, and I got there and got last place. I think that’s when I really changed… I was so down. I was hurt. I wasn’t expecting to lose… I mean, I didn’t even make finals. It was a surprise to everyone: to myself, to my coach—nobody knows what happened, to this day. I was confused, and at that point, I was willing to do anything, to change anything, to start winning again. My entire life changed at that moment.
Now that you’re a gold medalist, when you race, do you know you’ll win?
I never know if I’ll win. I just know to do my best. It’s a mind thing, you know? When I’m on the starting line, I know everyone else on that line. We’re all nervous, right? We all want to win. But you want to be the person who can bury those nerves and act like they don’t exist. That’s what I do, even though I’m nervous, I try to pretend. You have to bury nerves, because they can either destroy you or give you that extra boost. You have to use your nerves in a good way. Don’t let them destroy you.
How did you get into the fashion scene?
I was kind of a tomboy. I was the girl in middle school with the floods on—I wasn’t fashionable at all. Nails were my first love; they’re the thing I cannot go without. After I started loving nails, I started getting really into hair weaves and scarves, headbands… I changed my hairstyle every two to three weeks. Once a month felt like too little!
Your hair changes for almost every meet. As a sprinter, do you feel like certain styles make races easier or harder?
My coach thinks that, but it’s not true. I remember when I had a fro, he said, “That fro is gonna catch all the air and slow you down.” He thought it was going to act like a parachute. He was wrong, obviously!
Most Olympians do ads for peanut butter or cereal, but you’re in the Valentino campaign! How did you first get involved with them?
I’m still not sure how exactly it came about. But it was a great opportunity! I mean, of course, you can’t turn down Valentino! And the experience was great, overall… I know now that modeling is tough; it takes a lot of hours and a lot of energy… I thought modeling was going to be, show up, take a few pictures, pack it up, go home. No. We were on site for like 12 hours!
As a professional athlete, do you find there’s still a stigma about being sporty and glamorous?
I think we’re passed that. I think we’re allowed to be girly, if we want to be. It’s up to the individual and what makes us comfortable in our own skin.
There’s an eternal debate about wearing makeup to the gym. Do you wear makeup when you work out?
Are you kidding? Of course! The first thing I pack for meets is my makeup bag!
Sometimes in yoga, my mascara melts into my eyes and it’s awful. But you’ve worn glitter eyeliner while competing and been great.
Yeah, I haven’t had any issues. My mascara is waterproof, but it’s not fancy—it’s right out of the drugstore, and it works just fine for me. I do mascara, I do lipstick, I do eyeliner and a little powder, and I fill in my eyebrows because mine are a little thin… I love makeup. It’s always part of my [pre-game] routine.
It’s cold season. Do you work out even if you’re feeling gross?
Yeah, if it’s not serious, on some days if I’m not feeling well, I still end up going to the track. And most of the time, when I do the workout, I end up feeling better.
What gets you out of bed when you really don’t want to move?
Knowing everyone’s working just as hard as I am makes me run. Someone’s coming to beat me, and I have to continue to work hard to keep my spot.
That’s a good question, but my answer is going to really shock you. How often do you think I change sneakers?
Like once a week?
No, I train in the same sneakers for three months! Because I’m a sprinter, it’s not like my shoes wear out in an obvious way, like they might if you’re a serious distance runner. The distance runners are really particular about that kind of thing, actually—they keep up with exactly how many feet they’ve run in their shoes to the very T. They’re very detailed about it. But for sprinters, it’s fine every few months.