Sports

Stanford's Williams has plenty of motivation in decathlon

 

Harrison Williams is among seven Stanford track and field athletes to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and is clear about his motives.

"To score top three, and make the team," Williams said. "That's been the No. 1 goal for a while."


Harrison Williams
America's top track and field athletes will be converging on Eugene's hallowed Hayward Field in Oregon beginning Thursday and extending into next week.

Williams will be joined there by Stanford teammates Valarie Allman (women's discus), Olivia Baker (women's 800 meters), Elise Cranny (women's 1,500), Grant Fisher (men's 5,000), Mackenzie Little (women's javelin), and Sean McGorty (men's 5,000), as well as incoming freshman Christina Aragon (women's 1,500) and seven alums who have confirmed participation.

Williams, who capped his sophomore season with a school-record decathlon score of 8,032 points at the NCAA Championships three weeks ago, is in a unique position. It may be the last time Williams will compete at the Trials without expectations.

"It's definitely the biggest meet of my life," Williams said. "But there's no pressure. I'm not supposed to make the team."

Williams, 20, is a rising star in the sport. On June 9, he was more than two months younger than world-record holder and reigning Olympic champion Ashton Eaton was when they first broke the 8,000-point barrier.

Williams set the American junior record (19 and under) last year and has broken the Stanford record four times. Williams had the highest fifth-place score in NCAA Championships history, was fourth in 2015.

But perhaps Williams' most impressive feat is setting a lifetime best in every multi-event competition he has competed in since being coached by Stanford's Michael Eskind – 12 in all.

As he approaches his first Trials, Williams believes he's not far off a score of 8,300-8,400. It would require consistent performances close to his personal records, probably a breakthrough in the long jump ("I'm ready for one," he said) and a couple of lifetime bests.

But if he hits that point-plateau, or even comes close, he'll certainly surpass the Olympic standard of 8,100 and put himself in contention for a top-three finish. The average third-place score over the past four Trials decathlons, beginning in 2000, is 8,208.

"The big thing is if it's going to come down to the 1,500," said Williams, who ran a best of 4:27.88 at NCAA's. "I PR'd by two seconds at NCAA's, but I ran at a pace that would have had me PR by 10 seconds, but I kind of died the last 300.

"If I'm running for a spot on the team, I'll probably be running on Ashton Eaton's shoulder. That's a lot of motivation. I think I'll be able to run a lot faster. I just need a reason to run."

This will be the first time Williams will compete against Eaton and Trey Hardee, the U.S. decathletes at the London Games, though they have met before.

Williams played beach volleyball with Eaton and his wife, Canadian world runner-up heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, during a recruiting trip to Oregon. And he met Hardee on a recruiting trip to Texas, and has been praised by Hardee on Twitter.

Hardee and Eaton also have inspired Williams.

In 2012, Williams was a 16-year-old fledgling decathlete at Memphis University School and just home from practice when he sat on his back porch with his father, with the TV tuned in to the Olympic Trials.

Williams remembers watching Eaton run a personal best in the 1,500 to complete a world-record effort of 9,039 points. Hardee placed second in the competition to earn his first Olympic berth.

"What inspired me was a little clip they showed of Trey Hardee in the gear room, getting measured and fitted for all the Olympic gear," Williams said. "He was just in his street clothes, and the look on his face of absolute satisfaction and relief that he had accomplished his goal and was now going to the Olympics is what inspired me.

"I remember thinking, I want to be in that room one day with that feeling."

Williams didn't say anything to anyone, but his accomplishments and potential speak to how close he is.

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