Williams’ silver medal bonus


Williams’ silver medal bonus

Friday 26 November 2004

What began late last winter as a chase for an elusive NCAA title nearly ended in Olympic triumph for sprinter Lauryn Williams, one of the brightest revelations to emerge this season from the deep pool of young American sprint talent.

The 2002 World Junior champion in the 100m, the Pennsylvania native showed promise during her first two seasons at the University of Miami, finishing sixth in the short dash in 2002 and third in 2003 at the NCAA championships, but even those performances weren’t remotely indicative of what she would prove in 2004.

“It’s been stupendous,” she said of a breakout season in which she joined the sub-11 club. “It’s been fantastic, it’s better than anything I could have imagined.”

Pan-Am win

In 2003, she qualified for her first final at the national championships, eventually finishing seventh, before her season-capping victory at the Pan-American Games where she clocked a personal best 11.12. The performance would make her the 18th fastest of the year, which, while promising, still left the gregarious Williams very much another face in the crowd.

After a fifth place showing at 60 metres (7.30) at the NCAA Indoor Championships last March, Williams burst to the fore with an 11.01/22.46 double personal best (PB) win at the Gatorade Classic in early April, providing a brief glimpse of what was to come.

She followed up with victories at the Penn Relays, the Big East Conference Championships, and the NCAA Eastern Regional before winning her first NCAA title with a blazing 10.97, dipping under 11 seconds for the first time. It was the first-ever non-aided sub-11 win in women’s NCAA championship history, and a performance that immediately thrust the 20-year-old into the role of serious contender for a top-three finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

In Sacramento, she did not disappoint. After consistent 11.13 and 11.14 dashes in the rounds, she finished third in 11.10 to earn her ticket to Athens, beating Gail Devers, Marion Jones and others in the process.

“I had no pressure,” Williams said in Sacramento. “Someone who I’ve looked up to is Gail Devers and to beat her by one-one hundredth of a second is a great opportunity.”

Turning professional

Following what has become common practice among top collegians over the past few seasons, Williams gave up her final year of eligibility to embark on a professional career immediately after the Trials.

Yet even a pair of post-Trials races - 11.25 in London and 11.12 in Zurich, where she was fifth in both - did little to signal that she was indeed prepared for the biggest stage the sport has to offer.

Relaxed and prepared for Athens

After an easy 11.16 win in the opening round in Athens, Williams looked equally relaxed in the second but was much faster, clocking 11.03, her third fastest-ever legal performance.

“Definitely my start was the key to that race,” she said. “If I have a start like that tomorrow, only God knows the limit.”

After an 11.01 win in her semi-final, Williams came prepared for the Olympic Final. A little shaky from the blocks, Williams powered her way to the lead forty metres into the race, a lead she held until surprise winner Yuliya Nesterenko caught and passed her thirty metres later. Williams produced another personal best, her 10.96 just three one-hundredths behind the Belarussian, and a mere one one-hundredth ahead of Jamaican Veronica Campell, who preceded her as World Junior champion.

Olympic Silver

“Just getting into the blocks, I was just saying to myself, run for your life, run for your life. I knew this was going to be a good field, and it was going to be anybody’s game.” Reflecting back on her achievements this year, she added that her silver medal in Athens was “Mostly a bonus to what I’ve been accomplishing this year.”

Williams said that her personal best in the Athens final was nothing short of expected.

“I PR every year at my summer event --World Juniors, the Pan American Games, and this summer the Olympic Games. And fortunately, usually I have a gold, but I‘ll definitely take the silver here with all the prestige the Olympics has. I didn’t really change anything. I think I was kind of depending on the fact that I usually PR at my big summer event. And that’s what I did.”

An unbelievable family outing to Greece

Williams was joined in Athens by her four sisters, her mother, father and step-mother, thanks entirely to the fund-raising efforts in her community. The visit of her father, who required six dialysis treatments while in Athens, was among her biggest concerns and, her greatest joys.

“I was concerned at first because he couldn’t make it to the first two rounds,” she said in Athens. “But everything was going well. He’s been kind of die-hard here, and to see him full of life and jumping up down here was really very exciting. Just unbelievable.”

Beijing gold?

By the time the next Olympics roll around, Williams will be a tried and true veteran of the sprint wars well before celebrating her 25th birthday, and Beijing, she said, is already on her mind.

“I’m definitely thinking about Beijing, I think I have already got that vengeance ready,” she said in Athens. Smiling, she added, “I want that gold medal now. I heard that it’s only gold-plated, and the silver is all silver, so maybe mine is worth a little bit more. But I think I’d still rather have the gold medal the next time around.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF