Rochester native to anchor relay team


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LONDON -- Lauryn Williams can see the irony.

In what likely will be her last Olympics, she did not compete in the 100-meter dash, the race that made her career as the top American finisher in 2004, winning a silver medal in Athens, and in '08, taking fourth in Beijing.

Because Williams finished sixth at the U.S. track and field trials in June, her only option for helping the cause in London was to join the six-member 4x100 relay pool. To most sprinters, that would be an exhilarating consolation prize. To Williams, it would be a reminder of her two most glaring disappointments on the international stage.

In Athens, she ran the anchor leg in the 4x100 final. She was to take the baton from Marion Jones, but Jones couldn't get the baton into Williams' hand within the 20-meter passing zone, resulting in a disqualification for Team USA.

In Beijing, Williams was the anchor again in the 4x100 semifinals. That time, she and Torri Edwards couldn't make the handoff, and the baton dropped to the track. Williams picked it up and finished the race in last place. It wouldn't have mattered, because Team USA was disqualified the moment Williams left her lane to retrieve the baton.

Despite living with those dueling nightmares for eight years, Williams, 28, a graduate of Rochester High, decided to join the London relay pool. And, what do you know, she has been picked to run anchor Thursday night in the 4x100 first round.

"It's like God's playing a little joke on me," Williams said. "This time, I'm just a member of the relay pool, but it's a chance for redemption and a golden opportunity."

Williams does not expect to run in the final. She has been here for the past few weeks with one focus: making sure that, along with Tianna Madison, Bianca Knight and Jeneba Tarmoh, the U.S. gets its shot at gold Friday.

It shouldn't be that hard. Williams was a part of gold-medal winning 4x100 teams at the '05 and '07 World Championships. She just hasn't been able to duplicate it at the Olympics.

"The main thing is making sure that we have positive energy and positive chemistry," said Williams, who trains in Miami, where she attended the University of Miami. "That's going to be a key factor in getting the handoffs. Once, we get the stick around the track, the American team is the best team in the world. The rest should take care of itself."

Williams said the relay team has been practicing two to three times a week. She has had more free time than she did in Athens and Beijing, when she was focused on winning her individual race.

She has taken the time to watch some of the other events she never saw before, like water polo and handball. She has made more of an effort to talk with Americans from other sports and learn their stories. And, while training in Birmingham, England, she joined 21 other U.S. athletes in a book club.

The athletes read "The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss and discussed it over three meetings.

"I've had a good time just getting to know everybody," Williams said. "People tend to think athletes are this way or that, and there's so many different perspectives, different angles. It was just very exciting and stimulating."

Still, Williams hasn't lost sight of what else would be exciting and stimulating: Adding a gold medal to the silver she already has.

"Even when I was in tip-top shape, was the fastest American, both those times didn't go well," Williams said. "It takes an effort on four people's part. You've got to execute as a group. We're all excited to be here, and we have the same goal in mind."

olympics

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com and on Twitter @BradyMcCollough.


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