ANGELA WILLIAMS- Fast Track to Fame
University of Southern California’s Angela Williams is sprinting to athletic and academic greatness
By Kim Goss
Published: Winter 2001
There comes a time in every athlete’s life when their coaches are able to determine how far that athlete will go in their sport. This realization will vary with the athlete and the sport. For instance, Michael Jordan didn’t impress anyone when he was very young, and NFL coaches are often reluctant to make predictions about their rookie quarterbacks because it may take five years or more for these athletes to reach their peak. But when you ask coach Ernie Gregoire when he knew Angela Williams was going to be a world-class sprinter, you hear a different story.
“We’ve known from day one,” says Gregoire, who is coach for the Southern California Cheetahs, a track and field club in Walnut, California, and has coached Williams since she was 13, “Angela won almost all our races when she was nine years old, then all her races in the 10 to 11, 12 to 13, and 14 to 17 age groups. In college she has won the NCAA Championship three times, and now she has a medal from the World Championships.” Further, Gregoire says that there has never been a period of stagnation for Williams from hormonal changes or a growth spurt. “Angela has some great natural gifts and has always been a winner.”
Entering the Spotlight
Although she had always been regarded as a promising sprinter in her age group, Angela Tramaine Williams soared into the national spotlight when she broke the national high school record in the 100 meters with a time of 11.11 at the 1998 National Junior Championships in Edwardsville, Illinois. Every record is made to be broken, but the 100-meter standard of 11.13 set by Chandra Cheeseborough was a stubborn one and no one had touched it for 22 years, not even Olympic Games superstar Marion Jones - until Williams.
Just as she has been proving herself on the track, she has also distinguished herself in the classroom: Williams graduated from Chino High School, California, with a 3.9 GPA and was recognized as one of the state’s top 100 scholars. Williams credits much of her discipline in academics to her parents. “I’ve always looked to them for guidance, and I think they are successful parents because they’ve always pushed me - I’ve gone so far because of them.”
When asked which are her favorite athletes, Williams said she admires Jackie Joyner-Kersee and the late Florence Griffith-Joyner. “I like Jackie’s attitude because she was really kind - she didn’t let the sport take over her character. She stayed who she was,” says Williams. “Flo Jo was flamboyant off the track. She was very beautiful and had a charisma that everybody liked.”
One of the most highly recruited student athletes, Williams decided to major in public policy and management at the University of Southern California. The Trojan’s track tradition spans 102 years and includes 29 NCAA National Championship titles (including two indoor titles). The school has also produced 61 world records, 87 Olympians, 40 Olympic gold medals and 16 inductees into the U.S. National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Despite taking on the intense program of study that is necessary to excel at a school with such a strong academic program, Williams continued her winning ways out of the starting blocks. In her freshman year she won the NCAA title in the 100 meters, then duplicated the same feat the following year. In her junior year she won her third title and became the only athlete, male or female, to accomplish the feat. In the process, she also broke the school record with a best of 11.04 and has posted a wind-assisted best of 10.96.
Should she repeat again as NCAA champion in her senior year, Williams will not only break the record with four titles, she will establish a permanent place in track history because she will be the first to achieve a record that can never be broken, only tied.
In addition to winning her prestigious individual sprint title this year, Williams contributed points that played a key role in the Trojans’ bid for their first Women’s NCAA National Outdoor Championship. Last year the team finished just behind LSU, but there were question marks about the team’s strength since they lost the PAC-10 title to archrival UCLA. There was considerable pressure on Williams to win, but win she did with a wind-aided 11.05, the fastest collegiate time of the year. The victory wasn’t easy, however, as she was only .05 seconds ahead of UCLA’s Shakedia Jones, who had beaten her early in a dual meet against UCLA. So it was not only Williams who had reason to smile after this event, but also her teammates, the institution and the loyal USC fans. “Last year we had the championships in our hands and let it slip away,” says Williams. “We knew we were capable of winning, and so all during practice this year everybody focused on what they needed to do. Everybody did their best and we came out on top!”
Immediately after her victory, Williams said in an interview that appeared in the August 2001 issue of Track and Field News that the most important reason for her excitement was not winning the individual medal, but “the fact that the points went towards the team and just brought us the victory. . . . That’s what I’m so proud of right now.”
Beyond the college track scene, Williams has been making her presence felt in not just national, but international, competition. Considered to have the fastest start in the world, Williams ran on the gold medal 4x100 team at this year’s 2001 World Championships and earned the silver in the 60 meters at the World Indoor Championships. Her only setback in her remarkable career was getting the flu during the Olympic Trials and finishing sixth place in the semi-finals.
Choosing a college was an important decision for Williams. She not only wanted to continue her drive to fulfill her athletic potential, she also wanted a school that would enable her to achieve her academic goals. “Angela has also been, and will continue to be until June 2002, a student-athlete,” says Gregoire. “She is not a full-time athlete - I want to make that clear.”
Ron Allice, USC Director of Track & Field, comments, “Academically, USC is one of the best educational institutions in the country - this year our freshman class averaged a 3.78 GPA and a 1370 SAT - people are beating the door down to get into school here.” “Besides, no one has a richer tradition in track and field than USC,” adds Allice, who took over the top position seven years ago and who served as an assistant coach at the World Championships this year. “We just missed winning the women’s National Championships by three points the previous two years, and we won the men’s PAC-10 title three out of the last four years.”
Gregoire agrees that USC was an ideal choice for Williams, as it enabled her to maintain continuity in her training. “Rather than having her go through the transition of a new coach after high school, Coach Allice wanted me to continue to be involved,” Gregoire says. As a result, Coach Allice works with Williams during the school year and Coach Gregoire is able to see her during the summer at his club in Walnut, California. Williams adds, “I also wanted to go somewhere where I would be comfortable, and my family lives only 30-40 minutes from USC. I’m a real homebody, and I don’t like to go too far from my family.” Then, of course, there’s that great USC track and field program.
“Angela Williams is probably the best short sprinter in the world; but at USC we do not emphasize indoor track, whereas most of the other schools in the country do” says Allice. “One reason is that we have good weather all year long. But more importantly, with the indoor season you start competing in December and go all the way through. My obligation to the athletes in this program is to see to it that they perform to the best of their ability at the conclusion of the collegiate season, and have plenty left to go on to the United States Championships and get a chance to represent their count