He Challenged This Female UVA Track Star to a Race. It Didn’t Go as He Planned

January 3, 2024 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

Alahna Sabbakhan is an expert sprinter at the University of Virginia. She earned first-team All-America honors during the 2022 indoor season for her performance in the distance medley relay.

For reasons that elude her, one of her boyfriend’s friends boasted that he could beat Sabbakhan in a race. Further puzzling was the fact the friend was not a runner. 

At first, the athlete brushed it off. She’d been presented with similar challenges since she was a young girl. Then she thought, “Why not?”

“I was doing a 400-meter workout and he wanted to race me in the 400 meters for some reason,” she said. “I was like, ‘Sure, you can come join me.’”

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He did. And he brought his parents and some other friends, too.

The pair lined up, the challenger in lane 1 and Sabbakhan in lane 2.

In a video that has since been viewed more than 10.5 million times on social media and featured on NBC’s Today.com website and in the London Daily Mail, Sabbakhan and her opponent, who “refused to believe that a woman could beat him in a race,” went head-to-head on the track.

In the video, the male, whom she declined to name, begins the race with a big grin for the camera. Sabbakhan said she decided to run alongside him for the first 200 meters. 

“I’m not exerting myself for no reason. I have nothing to prove here,” she continues in her video voiceover. “If you’re crazy enough to challenge a 400-, 800[-meter] athlete to a 400 race, that’s on you.”

After the first 200 meters, Sabbakhan turned on the gas, quickly pulling away from her opponent. “His lack of fitness really hit him hard after 200 meters,” she said in the video, which was recorded a year ago, but not posted on social media until late December. 

She said she finished the run in about 57 seconds, which she told Today.com was “pretty good for practice.” Her best 400 in competition is generally 3 to 4 seconds faster, she said.

After the race, Sabbakhan told UVA Today her opponent congratulated her and told her he was in a lot of pain and that he may have made a mistake by choosing not to eat that day. 

“I guess he thought that was the best way to prepare for a race,” she surmised. “I told him, as a track athlete, that’s the worst way to prepare.”

Honor and Seeing ‘Good in Others’

Striking a magnanimous tone, Sabbakhan said she doesn’t hold any ill will toward the young man.

“I think the UVA Honor Code has helped instill a sense of integrity in me, regardless of if I always realize it or not,” she said. “I remember when I did a team-building activity with the sprints team last year where we all wrote nice things about each other. Small things like that really help build confidence and teach us to look at the good in others.”

Sabbakhan said she had some initial regrets about posting the video to social media. The Division 1 athlete and her competitor communicated a bit after it went live. 

“He’s tried to not be too focused on the negative things people have said about him. I told him I didn’t intend for people to kind of jump on him,” she said. “We are on good terms.”

To her fellow female athletes, Sabbakhan has this message: “Keep doing what you’re doing. Women’s sports has come a long way. We are part of something special. Be confident in your abilities and stay motivated in what you are doing.”

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications