America’s next great female sprinter might be former Hurricane Lauryn Williams, who shocked the Olympic-viewing world by winning a silver medal in the 100-meter event in Athens, Greece.
Williams, who will turn 21 in September, finished with a personal-best time of 10.96 seconds in the final race, ending up .03 behind Belarus’ Yuliya Nesterenko, who is ranked third in the world. Williams became the first Hurricane women’s track athlete to medal at the Olympics.
“My performance was good,” Williams said. “I had a good start and I think the finish was good enough. I felt Veronica [Campbell of Jamaica, the third-place finisher] on my shoulder. I didn’t want to be third by a hair. It worked for me.”
Williams turned professional shortly after qualifying at the Trials with a third-place finish, beating out famous sprinter Marion Jones for a spot in the event. She has now won six medals while representing the United States in international competition, taking gold in the 100-meters and 4×100-meter relay at the 2003 Pan American Games, a silver medal in the 4×100-meter relay at the 2003 World Championships, gold in the 100-meters at the 2002 World Junior Championships and silver in the 4×100 at the same event.
Williams said she was slightly disappointed by not winning her first gold medal.
“It feels great,” she said. “I’m a silver medallist with a personal best. I do have some mixed feelings because I would have liked the gold.”
The only setback for Williams came during the 4×100-meter relay finals when she was unable to receive the baton from Jones within the required 20-meter handoff zone, resulting in an automatic disqualification. However, Williams will leave Athens as the youngest sprinter in 32 years to medal in the 100-meters.
To add to the pressure of competing in the Olympics, Williams’ father, David, underwent dialysis treatment and had to miss her second-round heat. He was diagnosed with leukemia, which led to kidney problems, when Williams was a child living in Detroit.
When Williams qualified for the Olympics, her father set up the “Williams Family Greece Fund,” designed to raise money so her family could afford to see Williams compete in the race of her life. Thanks to a $10,000 donation by Tim Wiebe, a Pittsburgh rehabilitation equipment company owner, the Williams family was able to be in Athens for the entire Olympics.
Williams told ESPN.com that it was very important for her father to be in Greece with her and that she was “running for him.”
Williams was not the only Hurricane competing in Athens this year. Volunteer assistant track coach Debbie Ferguson won a bronze medal in the 200-meters while competing for the Bahamas, Davian Clarke anchored the Jamaican 4×400-meter relay team but failed to match his bronze medal in the 1996 Olympics and Kyle Prandi qualified for the men’s synchronized platform diving event but did not medal.
As for Williams, she is 15 credits short of a degree in finance at UM but will likely spend the next few months trying to land endorsement deals and beginning her quest for gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
Williams was able to make the University of Miami proud in Athens, and in the midst of all the controversy surrounding the U.S. track and field program, she just might be the breath of fresh air the sport desperately needed.
Eric Kalis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.