Noah and the Arc: LSU Star's Noah Williams' Impressive Progression Shows Trajectory

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2021 noah Williams .jpgNoah Williams, photo courtesy LSU Athletics

As is the tradition, David Hunter likes to put a piece out, just days before the NCAA Division 1 Track & Field Championships, that will capture a theme that could become the big story. One of those is the power and depth of the LSU Track & Field team.

David Hunter captured the enthusiasm of Noah Williams in this feature, Noah and the Arc!

We think that you will enjoy it.

And please return each day of the NCAA Championships, and each day (not break days) of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, to read David Hunter's unique perspective on collegiate and U.S. athletics in the two big meets at Hayward Field in June 2021!

May 31, 2021

There is a well-worn, anonymous expression: "Envision the life you want to live, then live it." Highly-talented and sharply-focused LSU sprint star Noah Williams - the reigning NCAA indoor 400 meter champion and #2 on the world leader board in the outdoor 400 meters - didn't coin that phrase. But he certainly lives by it.

Raised in Rochester, New York, Williams authored an impressive - yet not eye-popping - high school career at McQuaid Jesuit High School. "I did pretty well," understates Williams. "I was the 3-time state champ in the 100m, the 200m, and the 55m dashes. I wasn't running crazy times. I was running 10.7, 21.3, and 48.5 - those were my PR times in high school."

As his prep career was winding down and in pursuit of his vision to become a professional athlete, Williams took charge of his destiny. "My senior year, I wasn't really getting too much interest from schools. So I went on TFRRS and I looked at the guys who were running like 46 seconds, maybe 20 point something in the 200m, and maybe like 10.2 in the 100. Those were the goals that I wanted to run in college." But Noah didn't wait for college programs to find him; he went after the schools. "When I spotted the schools that had guys who were running times like that I sent emails to every single one of the coaches from all the SEC schools, all the Big Ten schools, and all the ACC schools." Williams also reached out to Kent State University and the University of Akron." Tired of the suspense, the young sprinter was eager to make a decision and move on. "About April of my senior year [2017] Akron gave me the best offer that I had at the time. And I thought that Akron would be a good choice for me. I didn't want to wait and draw out the process, so I just committed."

Despite being hobbled with puzzling groin injuries, the young college frosh - tightly wrapped for each race - chipped his indoor 400m PR down to 47.34 and was the 2018 Mid-American Conference runner-up in that event. Successive surgeries to address 2 different sports hernias then sidelined the long sprinter until the spring of 2019. In his first truly healthy collegiate season, Williams capped off his outdoor season at the '19 MAC championships where he clocked 45.72 to deny Eastern Michigan senior and reigning MAC 400m champion Tyler Underwood a successful defense of his crown. 90 minutes later the twosome would meet again on the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay. Down 35 meters when he got the stick, freshman Williams hawked down the EMU senior to seal the team title for the Zips. In the indoor season of 2020, sophomore Williams rewrote the Akron record book: 3 times setting 400m indoor records, clocking a 20.92 to break the school's 200m best, and running a scintillating anchor leg on the Zip's 4x400 relay squad which posted the best time of 3:07.89. As a final 2020 hurrah before COVID-19 shut down sports, Williams raced a school record-setting 46.50 indoor 400m to place 5th in the 2020 USATF indoor nationals.

While COVID was gripping the world, uncertainty swirled at the University of Akron as budgets were cinched, track repairs were delayed, and some sports werecut. When sought-after assurances were not forthcoming, Williams knew he had important decisions to make to preserve his vision of a post-collegiate professional career. "That's been my focus since I came to college," explains Williams. "I've wanted to be a professional athlete long-term. I've always wanted to put myself in the best position to do so. I knew there were things [at U of A] that weren't going to be solved - at least not in my time. I just had to take the bull by the horns and take that risk." He made the transition from Akron to LSU. "I think I made the best decision for myself."

Once in Baton Rouge, Williams - spotting special amenities such as 24/7 access to nutritious foods and readily available athletic trainers - quickly learned his decision was the right one. "Achievement is going to be more consistent. If I ever have any issue, they are going to take care of it and make sure that I am going to get back on the right track," cites the newly-minted LSU Tiger. But Williams also observed a dedicated and ambitious culture among his new fellow teammates. "On the mindset side, everybody here is very, very motivated and driven. Everybody has similar goals of wanting to have a career after college. It's just a different environment where we hold each other accountable. It's a competitive environment every day. We'll be at practice and I'll see the short sprinters practice doing 150's and I see Terrance [Laird] blowing it out of the water." You can hear the excitement in the young athlete's voice. "So, OK, I see him flying. Now I've got to go flying. Then I'll see JuVaughn [Harrison] do a crazy double in the high and the long jumps. Damion [Thomas] and Eric [Edwards] go do something crazy in the hurdles and then Terrance does something crazy in the 200. It just keeps going, and going, and going. We just feed off each other's energy."

With all of that energy, how has Noah Williams performed for the Tigers? Well, Williams won the 2021 NCAA indoor 400m championship race clocking 44.71 - a time that was the 2021 indoor world leader and #4 on the world's all-time list, bettered only by Michael Johnson [44.63], Kerron Clement [44.57], and Michael Norman [44.52]. Consider some of the recent 400m Olympic champions who have never raced that fast indoors: Jeremy Wariner, LaShawn Merritt, Kirani James, Wayde Van Nekerk. Outdoors this spring, the LSU star has posted a 44.30 clocking - the world leader most of this outdoor season until Norman raced 44.27 in Doha just days ago.

As he continues to hone his craft, Williams respects that unlike the 100m and the 200m the 400m is not an event you can overpower with all-out sprinting. Noah has his own technique to finesse the cruel mistress that is the 400. "Under perfect conditions, I like to push out my first 60-70 meters at full speed as if I'm running the 100m or the 200m. I don't like to say 'float' because it makes it seem as if you're not running hard; but then I like to just maintain that pattern without pressing, without wasting that much energy on the backstretch. And then as I hit 200m I like to re-engage. I don't necessarily kick at 200m because you can only hold that pattern for so long before you naturally start to de-accelerate. As I'm coming around the bend I try to turn it up again and hit that gear right around 130m to go and hold it to the finish."

Noah knows that ultimate performance requires not only talent and fitness but also an unshakable belief in one's self. "That race [the NCAA indoor 400m final] absolutely solidified what I already thought about myself, if that makes sense," confides Williams. "I think it is really important as an athlete to have that supreme confidence but not be cocky. So I carry myself with a lot of confidence, and I have a lot of confidence in myself to perform well." But the long sprinter offers a special twist to his analysis. "Confidence is one thing, but proving something to yourself is completely different. So I had that confidence in myself, but when I actually did it, I was like 'Noah, you just proved it to yourself now.' You might prove it to other people who don't doubt you - it doesn't really matter. But when you really prove it to yourself [then you know] that you are in that class with people that you always thought you were."

After the 2021 SEC outdoor championships where Williams ran a blistering 2nd leg on the Tiger's victorious [38.87] 4x100m relay team and later won the 400m final [44.37] against a talented field, the emerging quarter-mile specialist has been focused on the upcoming June gatherings: the NCAA Div. I Championships and the USA Olympic Track & Field Trials. "I don't want to say the work is done, but I absolutely know I've trained my mind and I've trained my body and I'm ready. So just staying mentally locked in, staying healthy - those are the biggest things for me. If I just stay that course that I've been on, I'm good to go. I'm right there and I'm ready for that next step, that next big drop.' [Editor Note: In the NCAA Div. I Regionals, Williams won his 400m first round [45.40] and quarterfinal [45.43] races to automatically advance to the finals in Eugene June 9-12].

As for the Trials, did Noah believe a year ago that a Trials opportunity and a possible Olympic berth could happen? "To be completely honest with you, I did think this was possible a year ago. I'm excited about the Olympic Trials. That would be my first real taste of real professional competition. I think that will be fun. I love competition. I embrace competition. This year has been really pushing me physically and mentally. And the competition this year? This is the deepest year of any year we can remember. It still seems like it is still early and everybody is running this fast? I've got to keep doing the things I've been doing."

Williams knows that, unlike the other events, the opportunity for a Tokyo ticket is wider in the relay-oriented events like the 400m. In addition to the top three finalist finishers and the 4th place alternate, 2 additional athletes will be added to the relay pool as chosen through a collaborative process involving the USA team coaches. The LSU sprint star doesn't dwell upon such details as his competitive focus is simple. "When we get to the Olympic Trials [Fred] Kerley's going to be there, Norman's going to be there. All the best Americans are going to be there. If I get second, that's cool. If I get third, that's cool. If I get 4 or 5, that's cool too." After a measured pause, Noah Williams adds, "But I'm racing to win." Dave Hunter

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