Portland athlete Micah Williams ready for Olympics sprint
Micah Williams has long made a habit of arriving early.
Since being introduced to sprinting at age 9, Williams has been winning races and setting records, so of course the 2020 graduate of Benson High is ahead of schedule and headed to Tokyo this month for the Olympic Summer Games.
Williams, who turns 20 in November, is among the pool of six runners selected for the United States 4x100 relay team scheduled to compete Aug. 5 to 6. He was selected after finishing fifth in the 100 meters on June 20 during the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene.
His time in that race, 9.91 seconds, met the Olympic qualifying standard and is the fastest 100 ever run by an Oregon Duck.
One of six runners on the 4x100 roster, it is unknown if he will be one of the four Americans chosen to run the relay at the Games. But Micah (pronounced Muk-eye) Williams will be soaking up the Olympic experience while still a teenager.
"I get to be there and experience the Olympics with the best in the world, so it's going to be special," regardless of what role he plays for the relay team, he said.
Williams said he first began dreaming of making the Olympic team as an eighth-grader, and that the 2020 Games were his target. Sure, the 2024 Games were a more realistic goal for the then-13-year-old Williams, but he certainly wasn't going to give up on 2020.
"I'm a competitor," he said. "I'm not stagnant. I don't want to stay in one place."
The Games were not held last summer because of COVID-19. Though they are a year late, they are still called the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games.
Yes, the one-year delay in these Games made it more realistic for him to qualify. It gave Williams another year to mature physically and emotionally. He experienced, and thrived on, life as a college athlete.
Williams emphasized that Leon McKenzie, the former Benson High track coach who coached him from age 9 through high school, along with Benson sprint coach John Mays, are the coaches who put him on the path to becoming an Olympian. His mother, Andrea Green, and grandmother, Janette Green, provided the structure and discipline.
At the University of Oregon, he is guided by Ducks' sprints coach Curtis Taylor and strength and conditioning coach Jim Radcliffe. Williams said his training routine in college didn't change significantly, though extra time and focus in the weight room paid off in 2021 — a big year for Williams even before he qualified for the Olympics.
Injuries cut short his junior season at Benson High, forcing him to miss the 2019 state high school championships. COVID-19 canceled his senior season at Benson. So, his freshman season at Oregon was his first chance to compete in significant races in a couple of years.
Williams, who holds the Oregon high school records for the 100-meter dash (10.21 seconds) and the 200 meters (21.03), did not miss a step.
He won the 60-meter dash at the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships, helping the Duck men to the team title with a school-record time of 6.49 seconds. He placed second in the 100 meters at the Pac-12 Championships and third in the 100 at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Then came the Olympic Trials. In familiar surroundings at Hayward Field, Williams breezed through his qualifying heats. Then, in the finals, he ran the fastest 100 ever by an Oregon Ducks sprinter, a personal-best 9.91 seconds that is the eighth fastest 100 in the world this year.
He said he wasn't nervous as he entered the starting blocks for the 100 finals.
"I was just thinking this is my home and I knew what to do," he said. "Not many Portland inner-city kids go to the Olympics. I just felt like I was ready."
The only part of the race that wasn't typical Williams was his reaction at the finish. He jumped for joy when he saw the scoreboard and realized he likely would be on the relay team heading to Tokyo.
"I usually don't show emotion. But, I've been saying since eighth grade that I wanted to go to the Olympics, so it was a great feeling," he said.
Since the Trials, Williams has trained on his own in Eugene. He will connect with his relay teammates in Tokyo.
Williams said he hasn't thought much about the process of earning the chance to run in the relay — the lineup will be determined by USA Track and Field once the athletes arrive in Tokyo ahead of the 4x100 relay qualifying heats on Aug. 5.
Williams does have international experience in the 4x100. In 2018, he ran the anchor leg for a USA team that won the gold medal at the Under-20 World Championships in Finland.
Even with the Olympic opportunity approaching, Williams recently established a website, mjaydub.com. He plans to sell his own line of apparel, beginning with T-shirts, now that college athletes are allowed to profit from their name, likeness and image.
"It's been amazing to see this all come together," he said.
Heading to college, Williams wanted to study to become an athletic trainer or a physical therapist. Heading into his sophomore year at Oregon, he plans to be a business major with the goal of becoming a business owner after his sprinting career.
He said he is very much looking forward to in-person learning beginning with fall term after a year of remote learning.
There won't be any in-person cheering for athletes in Tokyo. Japan has banned spectators from Olympic events because of COVID-19. That, Williams said, will be "really weird," on one hand, but no different than what athletes have experienced throughout the pandemic.
The unusual circumstances will make these Olympics even more memorable for Williams.
"Ten years from now I can say I've been at an Olympics with no fans," he said. "That makes it unique. I persevered and I made the Olympics" during a pandemic.
Ten years from now, Williams could be chasing his fourth Olympic berth. But representing the United States at these Games will be special for Williams, whether he runs on the relay or is in a support role.
"I want to be home on Aug. 9 with a gold medal."
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