Need for speed runs in the Williams family
By David Powell, Athletics Correspondent
J. J. WILLIAMS was sorry that he could not stop for the relays, but, having seen two of his children win their individual events in the Loughborough International yesterday, he had to dash. As a record-breaking tryscorer for the Lions in the 1970s, Williams is still in demand and a Lions dinner in Newport last night was on his schedule before he takes his seat tonight in the New Zealand television commentary box at the Millennium Stadium for the match against Argentina.
As much as Williams would like to see a successful Lions tour of New Zealand this summer, listening to him yesterday one sensed that nothing in sport would give him greater satisfaction over the coming months than seeing all three of his children qualify for the Wales athletics team to compete in the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next March.
Within 20 minutes of Rhys Williams winning the men’s match 400 metres hurdles yesterday, the elder sister who inspired him to abandon rugby and swimming to take up running, Kathryn Williams, won the women’s 400 metres hurdles invitation event. Even before yesterday, Rhys, 21, had acquired a Commonwealth Games qualifying mark but his aim of breaking 50 seconds for the first time was put on hold by blustery weather as he recorded 51.05sec.
Kathryn, 27, has returned to the sport after a break, having been a Great Britain junior international. “She is hoping to go the Commonwealth Games,” Rhys confirmed. The second of the three children, James Williams, 22, is a 1,500 metres runner. “He runs about 3min 50sec and has ambitions of going to the Commonwealth Games,” JJ said. “He is a little bit out of (contention) now but is working hard.”
Before JJ made his name on the wing, helping Wales to win the grand slam in 1978, he was a Commonwealth Games sprinter in 1970, assisting Wales to fifth place in the 4 x 100 metres. Rhys showed similar all-round qualities, as a Wales under-16 100 metres backstroke champion and national rugby squad member before, at 16, he switched to athletics.
“I used to go to watch my sister run and that was how I got involved,” Rhys, the European junior champion, said. “I never had ambitions to be a rugby player and when I realised that I was never going to become a top swimmer, I changed to athletics.” Having a famous father, he says, has been far from a burden. “It is nothing but a help, I am on the phone to him every day.”
The high point in Loughborough was Janine Whitlock’s British record of 4.45 metres in the women’s pole vault, supplanting the 4.40 metres she recorded in 2001 before she was banned for two years for failing a drugs test. Whitlock said that it had been a difficult road back. “When you know you are innocent, and people do not want to listen, it is tough,” she said.
Haile Gebrselassie shattered the United Kingdom all-comers ten-kilometre record by 14 seconds on his way to winning the BUPA Great Manchester Run yesterday in a time of 27min 25sec.