Olympics: Rochester's Lauryn Williams advances to semifinals in track and field trials
Share with others:
EUGENE, Ore. -- This is a different Lauryn Williams, but it would have been hard to know it Friday night if you saw her, smiling and laughing and breezing briskly into the semifinals of the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials with a time of 11.22 seconds that served notice to the rest of the field.
At 28, after a personally grueling past three years, Williams is not done yet.
"I'm really looking forward to showing people I still got it," Williams said.
Before she could go about jarring the memory of the people who may have forgotten about her, she would have to prove it to herself first.
That is the task that has been the most taxing, the one that drove a young woman once confident she could do anything she imagined into a dark place surrounded by doubt -- not only about her future on the track but also regarding who she was inside that sculpted body.
Williams, a Rochester native, became the pride of her hometown when she won the silver medal in the 100 in the 2004 Athens Games and took the world championship a year later. She finished fourth in the 2008 Beijing Games behind three Jamaicans and seemed poise to stay at the top of the American sprinting effort for years to come.
Track stars such as Williams emerge every four years. Looking at Williams on Friday after she finished second in her heat to automatically qualify for the next round with the seventh-best time of the preliminaries, this could have been 2004.
She was carefree and bubbly then, too, a 20-year-old student from the University of Miami who was suddenly realizing her potential for greatness.
"I had nothing to lose, but it was a different nothing to lose," Williams said.
The other version of "nothing to lose" is rooted in failure, and the Lauryn Williams that surprised in Athens didn't know much about that. This Williams lost her loving and supportive father, David, just months after Beijing and didn't really get to say a proper goodbye. This Williams didn't cope with her loss, lost herself on the track and then took the 2010 season off to go exploring.
She traveled the world, ate whatever she wanted and lived for Lauryn.
She went to visit her father's homeland of Trinidad, hoping to find clues to what was missing. She came back to the track in '11 and, for the first time, didn't qualify for the world championships.
"It's been rough," Williams said.
"That's God's way of grounding you. You gotta get drug through the mud. Then you decide if you want to get up or go out as a muddy person."
Friday was about fight or flight. Most of her competitors were younger, and some of them brought faster times to the trials.
But Williams' coach, Amy Deem, had a hunch that Williams' experience would be there for her to lean on. Williams simply knows how to make teams, Deem said.
Williams left little doubt from the gun that she was ready, bursting out near the front and maintaining her distance the whole way.
She finished her heat behind fellow former Olympian Allyson Felix, who ran an 11.19. Just .03 seconds separated Williams from third-place Alex Anderson and Felix, making it especially clear that Williams should be in the mix for a spot in London.
The semifinals will take place at 6:40 p.m. today with the finals coming soon after at 8:52 p.m..
"I feel like there's no weight on my shoulders," Williams said. "I've kind of turned into a little bit of the underdog, but I know what I'm capable of."
After Friday, so does everybody else.
Penn State sophomore sprinter Brady Gehret, a native of Altoona, finished sixth in the 400 meters at the NCAA outdoor meet earlier this month, but he'd never raced with as much on the line as Friday. And there was the matter of the persistent rain that had wet the track.
"I haven't run in the rain all year," Gehret said.
Gehret was lined up next to NCAA champion Tony McQuay of Florida in lane 6 of the second heat and was able to ride McQuay's hip far enough to finish third with a 45.80, automatically qualifying him for today's semifinals.
Gehret's time was 11th out of 16 qualifiers. The top eight in the semifinals will qualify for the final on Sunday.
"Hopefully it clears up a little bit tomorrow, and I'll have a better race," Gehret said. "As long as I keep advancing I'll be happy."
West Virginia senior Chelsea Carrier-Eades finished fourth in her heat of the 100-meter hurdles Friday with a time of 12.95 seconds, which meant that she had to wait to see how the other four heats went to know her fate.
The news was a relief. Carrier-Eades, a native of Buckhannon, W.Va., qualified for the semifinals with the 10th-best time and will pose a threat to her opponents in the final today.
First Published June 23, 2012 12:00 am