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Taking risks pays off for Harvard’s Victoria Bossong

Victoria Bossong races at Boston University

Harvard University junior Victoria Bossong is one of the best high school sprinters ever from Maine. Competing for Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, she earned 14 individual state titles in indoor and outdoor track. In her final Class A state meet, in 2021, she won the 100m and 400m. On a whim, she tried the 800m as well, and won in 2:10.66. (She also finished second in the 200m.) 

Bossong’s current coach at Harvard, Kebba Tolbert, watched her run that 800m, and he told her it would ultimately be her best event. Bossong was skeptical. But three years later, his prediction is turning out to be accurate. After running 2:04.02 during the indoor season, her performances have really taken off outdoors. In her 800m opener, she ran 2:02.40. And one week later, on March 30, she won a dramatic race against Penn State’s Hayley Kitching at Florida Relays, running 2:00.92, which led the NCAA at the time.

Bossong, 20, is balancing her running with some impressive off-track pursuits. She is studying neuroscience, works in a lab at Harvard Medical School, and in the long term she wants to become a doctor. She also wants to run professionally. “Balancing these ambitions will certainly make for difficult decisions ahead,” she wrote in an email to Fast Women. “But I feel fortunate to have options and be in a position where I can choose a route that aligns with my passions.”

She’s also passionate about gender equity in sports and she founded Harvard’s Voice in Sport (VIS) chapter. This has led to a number of high profile opportunities, including going to Capitol Hill to advocate for the Fair Pay for Women Act, which aims to enhance Title IX, and speaking about the disparity in NIL opportunities for men and women. Last weekend, she interviewed Kara Goucher at an event held in conjunction with the Boston Marathon.

Speedy from the start

Bossong participated in a variety of sports growing up, excelling in soccer, basketball, and softball, especially. Across all of her sports people noticed her speed. Bossong’s first season of track, in middle school, was cut short by an avulsion fracture in her hip. But in high school, she went out for the team again, and it wasn’t long before she was winning almost everything.

It’s not easy being a high school sprinter in Maine. The cold and snowy weather often made training outdoors difficult, and when her team trained indoors, it was in a 90-meter hallway with two turns in the basement of her school. She often had to go out of state to find competitors who could push her. She lost her junior outdoor season and senior indoor season to the pandemic, but she still graduated with the state records in the indoor (55.22) and outdoor (53.81) 400m.

Bossong was the valedictorian of her high school class, and she made a smooth transition to college. On the athletic side of things, it helped that her high school coach adjusted her training her junior year to be in line with what she’d be doing once she got to Harvard. Bossong has won four Ivy League individual titles (500m indoors from 2022–24, 400m outdoors in 2023) and three relay titles (4x400m indoors in 2022 and 2023 and the DMR indoors in 2024) so far.

Harvard’s distance medley relay narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Championships in March in Boston, so Bossong watched the meet from the stands. She was inspired by her teammates Maia Ramsden (mile) and Kenneth Ikeji (weight throw), who won national titles. Seeing the event also reinforced her belief that she belonged out there.

Becoming an 800m runner

Bossong initially feared that moving up to the 800m might lead to her losing some of her speed, but she has gotten faster at every distance. (On Saturday, she lowered her 400m time to 52.16 seconds.) Tolbert says that as Bossong has gotten more experienced, he’s been able to introduce more aerobic training, while still focusing on her speed and power work.

When asked about the longest run she ever does, Bossong defers to Tolbert. “She’s a sprinter who runs the 800, not a miler who runs the 800,” he wrote. “Her long runs are her 45-minute bike sessions, 45-minute swims, 15-minute fartleks after practice on the bike, and 12–15 minute runs on the track.”

Harvard has two of the country’s best 800m runners in Bossong and first-year Sophia Gorriaran. Bossong calls Gorriaran a great friend and says the two have had a blast running on relays together, but they don’t train together. While Tolbert is Bossong’s event coach, Gorriaran is coached by middle-distance and distance coach Alex Gibby. There’s been talk of joining forces in some workouts down the line, though.

Bossong believes that prioritizing recovery has contributed to her success this year. That has meant focusing on getting proper nutrition and adequate sleep and being diligent about doing prehab and rehab exercises. 

She has also declared this the year for taking risks. “I’ve gone into races, especially early in the season, willing to fail in order to truly gauge my capabilities, adjust, and experiment,” she wrote. “This mindset has allowed me to explore new strategies and adapt my approach.”

Looking forward, Bossong has big goals. She wants to help Harvard win an Ivy League title this season, she dreams of being the NCAA 800m champion, and she hopes to become an Olympian. Bossong’s mother is originally from the Philippines and she’s in the process of obtaining her Philippine citizenship.

“My family’s history and their sacrifices have profoundly shaped my opportunities and achievements,” she wrote. “They have a legacy of resilience, from serving in World War II to migrating in search of better prospects. This heritage is a cornerstone of my identity and success. It would be an immense honor to represent the Philippines, a way to celebrate and give back to the land that has given my family so much.”