Jamaican sprinter Briana Williams (© Getty Images)
Looking ahead to the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we're highlighting the rise of a new generation, 10 exciting prospects under the age of 21 who are set to become stars of the sport over the next few years.
The series, which runs Monday through Friday this week and next, started with Sweden's Armand Duplantis, the world U20 record holder in the pole vault and continued with world U20 400m hurdles record-holder Sydney McLaughlin and world U20 5000m record-holder Selemon Barega.
Our series continues with Jamaica’s Briana Williams, who earlier this year at age 16 became the youngest athlete ever to win a sprint double at the IAAF World U20 Championships.
Profile: Briana Williams
Just seven athletes in the history of the IAAF World U20 Championships have won a 100m/200m double. Of those, Briana Williams is by far the youngest.
The US-based Jamaican sprinter had her first taste of international competition last year, taking 100m bronze at the Carifta Games in Willemstad, Curacao. She returned to her Florida base and put together an impressive series of times on the US high school circuit, but she ended her season in Kingston at the Jamaican Junior Championships where she smashed her 100m and 200m PBs to take the U18 silver medals in 11.30 and 23.57.
She started 2018 with a bang and in just her second competition of the year she set a world age-15 best of 11.13 (1.7m/s). She immediately became one of the overwhelming favourites for the Carifta Games two weeks later.
Williams didn’t disappoint.
She took gold in the U17 100m in a championship record of 11.27, winning by 0.41, and followed it two days later with gold in the 200m in a PB of 23.11, winning by 0.64. Her times were quicker than the winning marks in the older U20 category.
Her big focus of the year was the IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 in July, but before that she had her first taste of senior competition. She finished third in the 100m at the Racers Grand Prix in 11.26, just 0.16 behind winner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the two-time Olympic champion and three-time world champion.
Two weeks later, she finished fifth in the 100m at the senior Jamaican Championships in 11.21, just 0.20 adrift of race winner Elaine Thompson, the double Olympic champion.
After racing against such luminaries, Williams arrived in Tampere with no fear. When USA’s Twanisha Terry set a championship record of 11.03 in the 100m semi-finals, Williams didn’t flinch and saved her riposte for the final.
She bolted into the lead and could not be caught, winning in 11.16 in completely still conditions.
Williams faced another leading US sprinter in the 200m, Lauren Rain Williams, who posted the fastest times in the heats and semi-finals. Once again, though, Williams timed her peak to perfection and sprinted away from her rivals to win in a national U20 record of 22.50, also breaking the championship record.
Williams will still be an U20 athlete through to the end of the 2021 season, but she is already looking to make an impact on the senior ranks in the next couple of years. And if her runs in Tampere proved anything, it’s that she shouldn’t be underestimated.
10 facts about Williams
1. Everyone is focused – but Briana is super-focused
“I think about Doha every day,” she says. “I think about the Olympics, and being one of the youngest finalists there, and hoping I can be world or Olympic winner. You might think Tokyo is really far away, but it’s really close, like 596 days to go!”
2. Her favourite food is pancakes
All the time, any time. Before she races. After. (But not, so far, during.) Briana loves pancakes so much she is even known to her training partners as ‘Pancakes’… “Before a race, meet, practice, I like to get my pancakes.”
3. And her other favourite food is sushi
“Raw sushi is the best, any time of the day but the morning. With soy sauce, and extra ginger. There’s lots of sushi in Florida!”
4. If it’s in the genes, that’s down to mum
“My mum played field hockey, and her cousins played soccer. On my dad’s side of the family there was nobody that was athletic. I got it from my mum’s side.”
5. She’s generally pretty relaxed before she competes…
“I just black everything out. I have a nice long sleep – I sleep a lot! – and wake up refreshed. I listen to music, nothing specific, I just let it shuffle.”
6. Her coach, Ato Boldon, says she’s always on her phone. That’s because she’s taking photos.
“I take a lot, a lot, of pictures. That’s mainly what I do 24-7. I am serious about them. I am a photographer. I do landscapes, views, food, myself, nature. So I use Instagram all the time.”
7. She was born in Florida but she has strong links with Jamaica.
“I grew up in Florida, but it was in a Jamaican tradition. And I visit my family in Jamaica probably five or six times a year. My mum is from Jamaica, my dad is from Philadelphia. She worked as a dental hygienist and they met while she was doing his teeth.”
8. Her favourite films, that she will put on to chill out to, are Finding Nemo and Chicken Little.
“I don’t like Harry Potter. I don’t know why. It seems scary to me!”
9. She watched Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and then Elaine Thompson as she was growing up…
“I raced them both earlier this year. And I see quite a lot of them. I met Elaine at the Penn Relays, and I’ve met Shelly-Ann because mum is friends with her agent.”
10. If she had a superpower, it would be…
“To be able to teleport. Then I would be able to go straight over to visit all my relatives in different parts of Jamaica.”
100m/200m doubles at the IAAF World U20 Championships
1992 Ato Boldon (TTO) 10.30 / 20.63
1996 Francis Obikwelu (NGR) 10.21 / 20.47
1998 Christian Malcolm (GBR) 10.12 / 20.44
2000 Veronica Campbell (JAM) 11.12 / 22.87
2006 Tezdzhan Naimova (BUL) 11.28 / 22.99
2012 Anthonique Strachan (BAH) 11.20 / 22.53
2018 Briana Williams (JAM) 11.16 / 22.50