Danielle Williams is a fine hurdler from Jamaica. Danielle is also one of the finest hurdlers in the world. In 2015, Danielle took the gold medal at the 100m hurdles in Beijing. In the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Danielle took silver at the 100m hurdles, and in 2019, in Doha WC, Danielle Williams took the bronze medal in a very fast hurdle final.
Danielle Williams has a PB of 12.32. Stuart Weir spoke with Danielle Williams on her long and exciting career.
1. How did you get into track?
I got into track because my siblings did it. At primary school track it was there to do and in Jamaica it is the number one sport. So I decided to participate and after a while I got good at it. My older sister, Shermaine, was definitely the biggest influence in getting me started. At the high school level, she was always going off to represent the country and winning medals and that was definitely the biggest influence and getting me started in track and field.
2. Jamaican schools championship?
I always competed and made the final but without winning, until in my last two years I managed to win. In my last year, I won the 100m and the 100m hurdles. And at the time you think this is the greatest thing ever. Looking back, you realise it was important at the time and a stepping stone to where I am now but in the grand scheme of things winning the high school champs really didn’t matter.
3.You went to the Moscow World Championships in 2013, aged 20: how was that experience?
That was a breakout year for me and the year I realized that I could compete at the highest level. I never really had any aspirations to go to the World Championship but being there in 2013 and seeing people that you normally watch on TV, I would admit that I was star struck. That probably affected how I performed, but it was definitely an exciting experience
4. At the 2015 world championships, most of us thought one of the Americans would win, so what happened?
I also thought one of the Americans would win! My expectations in 2015 were just to compete at the highest level not about how I would perform. I knew I had it in me to get to the final. My one aim, I suppose, was to get to the final and run a personal best. I did a PR in the semi-final and if that had been the end of the championship I would have been elated.
5. What was your attitude in the final?
In the final I just said to myself, “one last time, give it all you’ve got” and I won! To this day, honestly, I cannot tell you anything about the final except that I crossed the line, looked up and saw the result. I cannot tell you what happened in the race it is so much of a blurr. It was definitely a surprising victory. I’ve watched the race over and over and seeing the things I have done but mentally I cannot take you through each step of the race.
6. Did it help that you were not expected to win?
That always helps and I pride myself on being the underdog. I don’t like it when the focus is on me, not because of any external pressure but because of the person I am. I like to be low key and just go about my business. In 2015, the pressure was on everyone else, the focus was always on someone else and I liked that.
7. A PR in the championship final does you no harm!
I always want a PR every time I step on the track!
8. What happened in the 2017 World Championships?
I definitely thought that 2015 showed that I could win. And in 2017 I was definitely a better athlete. I knew what I needed to do to get to the final. I had a comfortable race in the heat but in the semi-final I had a mishap with the first hurdle, and a mishap on the first hurdle pretty much kills everything. It ended the entire race. As devastated as I was, I realized that there were lessons to be learned. I thought: “in 2015 you weren’t prepared for that but you won. In 2017, you were prepared for it and then this happened”. So you have to take all these lessons and transfer them to the next season. It was definitely disappointing but there were many lessons to be learnt.
9. Some hurdlers are sprinters who hurdle, others are great technical hurdlers, what are you?
My PR for 100m is 11.2 and I definitely think I can run the hundred pretty fast but I also know that I’m a pretty good technician. So I would say I’m a bit of a mash-up between the two. My issue with hurdles is that it’s a rhythm event. It’s not really a sprint. It’s a shuffle so because I am a good sprinter it’s definitely hard for me to shuffle. That is the issue for me being a sprinter and a technician.
10. What is your training group like?
I live in South Carolina. My training group is awesome, a group of sprint hurdlers or 400 hurdlers. Most of us are islanders and it is definitely the most supportive group I have ever been in. We support each other 100%. If one is down, the others are there for them.
11. What is happening now?
We have had to stop training. The facility where we normally practice closed on 12 March. We found a public track where we were continuing to practice but once they issued the notice of no public gatherings of more than three people, training pretty much came to a standstill. I work out in a group of seven – five athletes and two coaches. So the only way we could make it work is if we went out two athletes at a time.
12. At the 2019 Anniversary Games, you ran two PRs in an afternoon, isn’t that a bit ridiculous? [12.41 and 12.32]
I don’t think it was ridiculous because if I take you back to 2015 in the World Championship I did two PRs there in 2 hours, in the semi-final and final. So I have done it before and it’s something we train for. London was magnificent. I cannot describe it any other way. But it wasn’t a surprise because we practice and train for this. It didn’t happen overnight. This is the culmination of five years of work. From 2013 and 2014 we’ve been taking the race apart. We have fixed different aspects of the race and this is the result of all that. I ran 12.32 but it was not a completely clean race so I think I could have done some things better.
That’s how I always view a race. I am happy with it but I always make mistakes and think how I could fix those and go faster.
13. Why has Jamaica been so dominant in track and field?
I think it’s because track and field is what we know. It’s our national sport. Some people might say cricket. But when you go to school, as young as three, you are put in houses to compete in sports days and that goes all the way up to university level. So we have many opportunities to compete, as young as three. There’s not a lot of distractions or a lot of sports to choose from.
Once you get into track and field you’re going to do your best especially in the high school scene if you’re one of the top high schools. Everyone knows if you’re doing well in track and field and the country is going to support you. I think that’s why we do so well. It’s the one area in Jamaica for the focus is definitely on you.
14. What is your assessment of your 2019 season?
It was a great season. All the positive adjectives I can think of apply! It was amazing, phenomenal it was short of nothing that I could have imagined or wanted.
15. How big was winning the 2019 Diamond League final?
It was great. It was something that I had set out to do. It was on my agenda. Athletes have a list of goals that they would like to achieve and winning the Diamond League final was one of my top goals for last year. So it was awesome to make the final and win.
16. How do you reflect on the 2019 World Championships when you were probably the favorite?
I guess I would have been a favorite going into Doha. I had the world lead and had won the Diamond League trophy. So I certainly would have been considered one of the favorites. The World Championship was a bit disappointing because everyone wants to win. I wanted to win the gold but at the same time I wanted to medal. You might say that I had high hopes and low hopes and I came out with the low hopes. I suppose I could say it was bittersweet. But it was Nia’s day, the fastest race of her life, so I could have done nothing else
17. What kind of person are you away from the track?
I’m a pretty boring person. I like to read and I like to watch TV. The majority of my time is spent by myself. I am pretty nonchalant about everything and I don’t like the spotlight. That’s me.
18. Where does faith fit into your life?
Growing up in Jamaica, you definitely go to church. That is what you do. You go to church with your parents and you go to Sunday school. I wouldn’t say I’ve always believed. I think as I matured and got to understand it more I saw that it was something that was definitely needed in your life. You have to have faith in something and it helps me to know that there is a greater power that is controlling everything. In the last 2 to 3 years I got myself back into church and am enjoying it again and started renewing my faith and my walk with Jesus Christ. It is been awesome.
19. If there were Diamond Leagues in September October would that work for you?
I’m not sure that would make sense at this point because I and other athletes are not able to practice at the moment. And for an event specific person like me, I need a track, blocks and hurdles to prepare to compete at this level. Without having those for a prolonged period of time, there is no way that I could get in shape to compete in Diamond Leagues no matter when they are held. And at this point there is no end in sight of corona or of when and we’ll be able to resume practice. We will have lost months of conditioning. So I’m not sure how much sense it would make to have meets, even at a later date. But if they do, then it’s our job to get into the best shape possible, as quickly as possible. If there are to be Diamond Leagues in the fall, then the only way it would work is if we say that this now is the break we would have taken at the end of the season and we then train right through without taking a winter break. That is possible but I don’t think anyone wants to do that, particularly going into an Olympic year and with the World Indoor Championships and possibly the World [outdoor] Championships but we’ll see what they do.
20. How will it work out financially if there are no competitions this year?
I’m one of the lucky ones because I have a contract and I get paid whether I run or not. Obviously, we earn more if we’re on the circuit and racing. I have been joking with my family and friends that I might apply for a job just to keep me occupied because I don’t want to be sitting at home. But it is tough for those who don’t have other income.