Williams was a three-time Olympian in track and field and won the silver medal in the 100-meter dash at the 2004 Olympics and was part of the 2012 Olympics gold medal 4x100 relay team.
However, she had no idea just how special her Winter Olympics accomplishment made her even after she just missed winning a gold medal.
“It really is hard to believe I am one of five,” said Williams, who is working at the Maximum Velocity Track & Field Academy this week at Cetnre College. “I didn't even know what the history was. We got into the first couple of days of training and the media was there asking about the history I could make.”
She knew teammate Lolo Jones, a track and field Olympian, had also made the bobsled team, a rare feat in itself.
“But I didn't know what they meant about making history, so I really didn't answer or follow up the question. I didn't know what I had done until we had won the medal and they said I was the fifth to do it and first American woman. I just said, 'Really, that's cool.' It doesn't sink in and stick with me that I have accomplished that,” she said.
“I was just trying to get out there and help Team USA and that's what I have been telling the kids. Success comes when you are trying to do the right thing. It's not about setting your goal for success only. It's about working for the right thing first and success will come off of that.”
After she helped position the 4x100 relay team in qualifying to win the 2012 gold medal, she had no intentions of joining the bobsled team. She joked that her reference for the bobsled was the movie “Cool Runnings” about the Jamaica bobsled team. That changed after Jones convinced her to try out for the team and told her that her “speed and power would probably make her perfect” for bobsled competition.
“It was just that simple. You never know what is right around the corner,” Williams, 30, said. “It is not easy. I made it look easy having done it in six months and a lot of the sprint mechanics transfer over to bobsled, but it was a very steep learning curve with other girls teaching me all I needed to know and being very patient with me as I dropped stuff, broke stuff and did it all wrong. I would have never made it to that point without them.”
Still, she went to Sochi (Russia) expecting to win not just a medal, but the gold medal.
“I never show up unless I show up to win and that is what I am telling the kids here. Don't get out there and go halfway. Make sure you do it to the best of your ability no matter what,” she said. “If you are not showing up to win, you shouldn't show up at all. You are not always going to win and I explained to them the importance of the journey and what you accomplish along the way even if you don't win. But you show up to win and appreciate everything you have done along the way so if you come up a little short from winning, you feel excited for the opportunity.”
Still, that has not kept her from replaying her team’s final run — the slowest of their four trips — that dropped them from first to second in Sochi.
“Oh boy, I am still losing sleep over it. Some days I literally wake up kind of pushing my hips through as if the sled was there and I am trying to give it one last umph and hoping the result was different,” she smiled and said. “It doesn't get any easier, especially when you get that close. But the journey was so amazing. I just tried to focus on how wonderful it was and getting a medal at all. You have to figure 20 teams competed and 17 didn't get a medal.”
She says it is impossible to rank exactly where winning the silver medal ranks among her athletic accomplishments.
It was really a really a great opportunity that I fell into and I know how hard I worked for that medal and I earned it, but we were so close to the gold,” she said. “But I don’t put one above the other. The relay is quite an interesting story for me. I had been part of two botched handoffs in the Olympics before that and to finally come full circle and get that gold medal ... even though I was not part of the final relay group I did participate and did my part to make sure they had high energy and I got to stick around. All of them were different learning experiences for me.”
Now she’s trying to share “little things” with the Centre campers to make them better.
“You can give them one little piece they can take and apply to their summer track or their coach can use with high school track. It is important to find one thing you can ingrain in them as opposed to throwing 75 different things at them and they leave and can’t remember it at all,” she said.
“If they leave and remember one thing about the block start or putting their head down and one thing about mechanics, great. Take away one little thing from each session and you get that, you are a lot better off than if you try to teach them everything you learned in 10 years in two days. I am trying not to give them too much.”
But she is also enjoying being with other Olympians, including current world record holders Kevin Young and Aries Merritt, and learning from them.
“You know these athletes but you don’t always know their full story. When you get asked a question on the fly, it brings up something,” she said Thursday. “Today I talked about my dad having cancer and Aries knew that my dad died but he didn’t know he had cancer. You tell your own personal story and learn something about that athlete. You know them, but you don’t know them the way you think you know them and you can always learn just like these kids can.”