'Briana has talent like I have never seen' - Boldon

By March 23, 2020

In the seven years they have been together, Ato Boldon and Briana Williams have enjoyed a successful relationship as coach and athlete. In that time, the Trinidadian coach has guided the now 18-year-old Jamaican to several records and titles that have seen her stocks rise as one of the emerging athletes of the near future.

Late last year, Williams, who celebrated her 18th birthday on March 21, 2020, signalled her arrival among the professional ranks when she signed a multi-year professional contract with Nike.

It was just two years ago, in mid- March of 2018, that Williams signalled to the world that she was on her way when she set the 100m world age-group record for 15-year-old girls of 11.13 at the Bob Hayes Classic in Jacksonville, Florida.

Mere weeks later, she won three gold medals at the Carifta Games and claimed the coveted Austin Sealy Award as the most outstanding athlete of the meet.

However, it was the summer of 2018 that she demonstrated the immense depth of her talent when at the age of 16 she defied the odds to win the 100m and 200m titles at the World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.

The year 2019 was to prove as successful even though there would be a bump in the road.

At what would be her final Carifta Games, Williams repeated her exploits of 2018 and won the Austin Sealy Award for a second time.

She would go on to win the NACAC U18 100m title as well as the Pan Am U20 title and set a World U18 record of 10.94s when she finished third at the Jamaican national championships in June beaten only by world-leading times of 10.73s run by Olympic champions Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

However, the 10.94 was erased after she failed a drug test having ingested Pharma Cold and Flu tablets tainted with the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ). She was reprimanded by a Jamaica Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel and missed a chance to compete at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.

It turned out to be a pit stop in her burgeoning career as greater things clearly await.

But, what is it like for her coach, shaping the future of a confident but headstrong 18-year-old?

Boldon shed some light on their relationship, first revealing that he did not start out intending to coach a then precocious 11-year-old Williams.

“I wasn’t really thinking about coaching her. I was more fundraiser in chief when it came time to find the money for her summer meets. Whatever shortfall she had after we did her go fund me, I made up,” he said.

Having ended up coaching her, Boldon said they now share a solid and fruitful connection.

“The relationship really is a good one. I think Briana and I know each other very well. I have to deal with the fact that she is a headstrong teen, she has to deal with the fact that my patience is about a quarter-of-an-inch long. I notice now when I go off on her over something, her attitude is “ok here he goes, he’ll be ok once he’s done," he said, explaining why he believes they are perfect for each other.

“Briana and I are both very interested in history. That’s why it works. It also works because she trusts me implicitly. The last three seasons have gone exactly as I told her they would in terms of times and performances.

“I’d like to think she’s inherited her sense of history from me. If it’s been done before, I am not really interested in it. I want her to blaze new trails and create history. I’m not sure she felt that way before. Her age-group world record in 2018 changed that. Hearing “Fastest 15-year-old girl ever” changed her mind quickly.”

It has not all been smooth sailing, however. After all, Briana is still a teenager.

“Briana is very headstrong. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I tell people all the time, go look at the Kentucky Derby. You’ll see a horse that refuses to get in that starting gate. He’s not interested, won't conform, doesn’t care if the world is waiting,” he said.

“Briana can be like that, and I don’t like to be challenged when I’m coaching so it leads to some interesting interactions between us. Being headstrong I think is a trait of most great sprinters, so I’d never try to kill that part of her.”

There is a method, though, to getting the best from her.

“Once Briana sees results, she’ll do exactly what you want - and ask for more. There are workouts in 2018-2019 that I wanted to use sparingly because she’s 16 (now 17) and she’s like "coach we haven't done Workout X in a while…why not…?” and you realize “oh, she understands what that will do for her, she’s not afraid of the pain and she’s not going to avoid doing it again either."

Boldon, the first world junior champion to become a world champion at the senior level, said Williams is chest-deep in talent.

 “Briana has natural gifts that I’ve never seen. I've never seen someone at her age start like that. When it’s a big occasion, her start never deserts her. World under-20 final 100m, Jamaican Nationals 2019, 100m. I had pro sprinters in my camp that she could hold her own with - at age 14,” he said.

“I had to completely revamp her strength training this season because she can lift whatever I throw at her, but I will need that in her 20s and 30s. I can get around doing that stuff now. From hip to knee, she’s a beast. Grown men see her doing Olympic lifts in the gym and can't believe it. Much of speed is about strength to weight. She only weighs 125lb, but for her size, she’s extremely strong.”

He said he has no real issues in keeping her motivated, a critical component of her achieving greatness as she transitions to the senior ranks.

“She’s very motivated on her own. She doesn’t need me for that - until it’s something she hasn’t thought of. She knew she wanted to win World under 20s in the 100m in 2018 - even though she was only 16,” he said.

“I knew she could win both. She had to be convinced about the 200m. In 2018, people online were trying to tell her that she shouldn't be running with pros e.g. at Racers Grand Prix. Maybe she believed some of them. I convinced her otherwise. I don’t have to convince her much anymore.”

The Covid-19 pandemic will slow Briana Williams in 2020 as the 2020 Tokyo Olympics might be postponed until 2021. However, all that would do is delay the inevitable rise of the next female star of track and field.

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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