Late bloomer has shot at 200 silver Williams' hopes dashed by injuries in '88 and '92

June 25, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

A word of advice to Jeff Williams: Stay off the freeways of Southern California between now and next month's Olympic Games. A word of advice to the rest of the world's 200-meter sprinters: Beware of Jeff Williams.

OK, maybe Michael Johnson need not worry about Williams or anyone else. But the man who finished second in Sunday's 200-meter final at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Atlanta figures to be a solid choice for the silver medal.

Williams, 31, is something of a late bloomer whose career had been sidetracked by injuries for several years. Not the run-of-the-mill, garden-variety pulled quad muscles and hamstrings that seem to afflict these finely tuned athletes.

We're talking injuries.

There was the wrecked knee weeks before the 1988 Olympic trials in Indianapolis. It ruined his track season and eventually his football career at Prairie View A&M. Then there were the dislocated ribs suffered four months before the 1992 trials in New Orleans. He recovered enough to compete, but finished seventh in the 200 and never made it out of the semifinals in the 100.

How did Williams get hurt?

"The first time I got hit on my motorcycle," Williams said. "The second time, Feb. 28, 1992, I got rear-ended on the freeway by a bunch of clowns heading to Disneyland."

Williams stayed home, watched the Olympics on television, and burned to get another chance. With the help of his coach, Williams has become one of the world's top sprinters. He won the bronze in last year's 200 at the world championships. Aside from coming in second behind Johnson in his world-record-breaking run, Williams also finished fourth in the 100 in Atlanta last week and also is expected to be part of the 4 x 100 relay team.

"Jeff's very coachable," said Barbara Farrell-Edmondson, who has coached Williams the past couple of years. "He listens to what I tell him and then he goes out and does it."

Farrell-Edmondson looks at Williams as sort of a younger brother. She has introduced him to some of her old friends, like former 200-meter world record-holder Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Farrell-Edmondson ran second behind the legendary Wyomia Tyus at the 1968 Games in Mexico City that Smith and Carlos made famous for their black-gloved salute.

"They keep telling me that I haven't done anything," said Williams. "But I know that I will win the gold [in the Olympics]."

Runner follows a dream

One of the best stories at the trials was Dan Middleman, a 10,000-meter runner who earned a spot on the Olympic team by finishing third. A 26-year-old ex-New Yorker who ran at the University of Florida, Middleman has had to support his dream with a couple of interesting jobs. He has been a sports editor at a small newspaper in North Carolina and now teaches school in Raleigh, N.C.

"There's been a lot of people who've wondered why I was doing this," said Middleman, who hasn't been ranked in the top 25 in the United States the past couple of years. "This proves that you can't have a dream unless you try."

Officials have an attitude

It's one thing to hassle media types about which gate to enter. It's another to bother fans about the kind of food they can bring into an event. But the volunteers at Olympic Stadium might have made a mistake when they messed with Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

According to Joyner-Kersee, her therapist was tossed out of a restricted area reserved for athletes despite the fact that he was there to look after the three-time Olympian and two-time gold medalist's injured thigh.

"They were going to call the police," said Joyner-Kersee, who recovered from her first heptathlon defeat in 12 years to win the high jump competition. "All we wanted was a little communication."

The lack of communication, not to mention patience, at the track and field trials doesn't bode well for next month. When reporters tried to get in an open gate en route to an off-day news conference with Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games chief Billy Payne, they were told to walk in on the other side of the building.

When one reporter had the audacity to ask why, the official responded, "Because I said so."

A local fan and former college runner who spent his week's vacation at the trials said his M&Ms were confiscated as he entered one day because they were sold inside the stadium. "The next day I was hiding food in my socks and under my shorts," he said.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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