While the football team gets ready to compete for a national championship and baseball gears up for the College World Series, two track and field stars, Lauryn Williams and Tabia Charles, are on the verge of reaching the pinnacle of individual athletics by qualifying for a berth in this summer’s Olympics.
University of Miami students may not be able to identify Williams or Charles, but in track and field circles they are household names. Charles set a school-record in the triple jump this past weekend at the Texas Relays, and Williams is a five-time All-American.
Both enter this summer with the same goal in mind, but the two have traveled down far different paths in their pursuit of a gold medal.
Williams, a junior, had a long list of accolades while competing for Rochester (Pa.) High School and was sought after by the top programs in the nation. In her freshman season, she won the 100-meter event at the Big East Championships and has not looked back since.
Williams’ highlights include a gold medal in the 100-meter and 4 x 100-meter relay at the 2003 Pan American Games, a silver medal in the 4 x 100 in last year’s World Championships and a World Junior Championship in 2002.
All of Williams’ accomplishments have made the topic of the Olympics unavoidable when talking with family and friends.
“I try not to think about [the Olympics] that often, but this being an Olympic year, people come up to me and ask me about it,” Williams said. “I tell them that I plan on going to the trials, and they are like ‘wow, you must be really good if you’re going to the trials.’ So it turns into a whole conversation about the Olympics anyways.”
While competing in Paris, Williams got the chance to work with some of track and field’s biggest names, like Maurice Greene and Inger Miller.
“They helped me with different parts of my technique,” Williams said. “I have a habit of running bent over, and they taught me ways to stand up straighter while running. They showed me some tricks of the trade, nothing really specific, but it was really helpful to me.”
Unlike Williams, Charles was not well known in the U.S. before coming to Miami. Part of that has to do with the fact that she comes from Pickering, Ontario, where she was the three-time National Scholastic Indoor Champion in the triple jump and held the Canadian Junior record in both indoor and outdoor competition.
Qualifying for the Canadian Olympic team is a bit different than the system implemented in the United States.
“They [Canada] have trials, but you have to run certain times to make it into the trials,” Charles said. “They make it so much more difficult. You have to run or jump the B [minimum requirement] standard twice and do the A [most difficult requirement] standard once, then you make it to the trials.”
Head Coach Amy Deem said both Williams and Charles have made encouraging strides in their training.
“Lauryn’s progressing really well,” Deem said. “We have been working on the little things and really focusing on the end of indoor season and making a push for outdoor season. With Tabia, we are just trying to bring her along slowly. She had a great NCAA Indoor Championship [fourth in long jump and triple jump].”
Since Charles is only a freshman, she does not have the same sense of urgency to qualify for this year’s Games that Williams has. Nevertheless, both competitors vow to stick to what has made them successful in the past.
“We are trying to take it one meet at a time,” Williams said. “Doing things differently is not what got us here in the first place, so we try to stay on the same program.”
Eric Kalis can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Friday’s Hurricane will profile the swimmers and divers who are attempting to qualify for this year’s Olympics.