When Georgia freshman Kendell Williams was tripped and fell to the track on the first turn of the 800 meters in the final event of the heptathlon on Friday, she was able to get back up as fast as possible.
But the tumble took its toll.
By the final 200 meters, she “completely hit a wall,” and for an instant, she thought she had lost her chance at the title at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field.
“I’ve never fallen in the 800,” said Williams, who celebrates her 19th birthday today. “Going into the run, my legs were already tired, and then I had to get up and finish the race. The last 200, I completely hit a wall, and I had a feeling that I had lost it.”
Instead, Williams, who came into the second day of the heptathlon with a hefty 192-point lead, hung on for a narrow 18-point victory over runner-up Allison Reaser of San Diego State – 5,854 to 5,836.
Reaser won the 800 with an impressive time of 2 minutes, 12.8 seconds, while Williams labored across the finish line in 2:28.59, placing 20th overall out of 21 finishers.
Still, it was Williams standing atop the awards podium, smiling and waving to the crowd of 10,104 spectators, as she clutched her first-place trophy, and prepared to take her victory lap.
“Unbelievable,” said Williams, the American junior record-holder in the heptathlon (6,018). “I had some good performances and I also had some bad ones, so it feels good to pull it out.”
In the end, it was her very first performance on Thursday – a heptathlon collegiate record of 12.99 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles – which allowed her to maintain her cushion throughout the rest of the competition.
“That was incredible,” Williams said. “I had no idea that was going to happen. I felt like I got out really well, and I felt smooth going through the race, but I never expected to be that fast.
“At the end, I heard my coach go ‘Yeah!’ so that’s when I knew I had run a fast time.”
Her other marks were as follows: high jump (5-10); shot put (39-0 ¼); 200 (24.30); long jump (20-1 ½); javelin (114-3).
At the age of 19, Williams now owns two NCAA titles.
The native of Marietta, Georgia won the NCAA indoor pentathlon title last March with a world junior record of 4,635 points.
Although this was Williams’ first trip to Hayward Field, she fully expects to be back for the IAAF World Junior Championships, July 22-27, the first time that event will be held on U.S. soil.
“Yes, I will be back for that,” said Williams, who placed eighth in the heptathlon at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona. “I think it’s a big advantage that it’s in America this year. I get to be on my own turf in front of an American crowd. That will be exciting!”
First, however, she must qualify for World Juniors by placing in the top two at the USATF Junior Outdoor Combined Events Championships, June 25-26, in Sacramento.
It will be her third heptathlon in a five-week span after also winning the Southeastern Conference title in mid-May, but Williams didn’t seem too concerned.
“My coach, Petros (Kyprianou), has been really careful not to overwork me,” she said. “I haven’t done many meets at all this season. My training has been carefully planned out to be able to prepare for two heptathlons, basically back to back, and then the championships.”
As for now, she plans to shift into recovery mode.
“I know I will be sleeping a lot and eating a lot over the next several days,” said Williams, the first freshman to win the NCAA heptathlon title since Arizona State’s Jackie Johnson in 2004.
“I don’t feel like I’ve reached my limit yet. I don’t feel like I’m overworked. I think I still have something left in the tank.”