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Q&A: Williams triple jumps into third Olympic Games

Kimberly Williams was born and raised in Jamaica, a nation that has produced countless world-class sprinters. Williams grew up running but was captivated by the triple jump and how her athleticism could blend in with the field event, which begins with a running start, continues with a hop and step (or skip) and concludes with a jump into a sand pit.

A Florida State star from 2008-11, Williams is one of the world’s best triple-jumpers — she won the NCAA Championship three times and took silver at the 2018 World Indoor Championships — and will compete in her third Summer Olympics in August in Tokyo. Williams, 32, set a personal-best earlier this year (14.69 meters in Doha, Qatar) and is excelling in a sport where she feels most athletes peak at 27 of 28. 

“It shows that I am getting better with age,” Williams said. “I guess I’m like fine wine. … It sounds weird, but field eventers take time to develop. If you are developed at a young age, you tend to not last long in the in the sport. But if you’re getting better every year, longevity will be on your side.”

Williams has battled adversity through the years as an injury caused her to miss the Olympic Trials in 2008 and subsequent injuries (hamstring, Achilles, ankle and a bruised heel) affected her training. In the last year, Williams lost an uncle to COVID and her grandmother, “one of my biggest supporters,” also passed away. 

She has remained in Tallahassee to live and train with longtime FSU assistant Dennis Nobles at Mike Long Track. Last week, Williams went in depth about FSU, the triple jump and her Olympic dreams with the Osceola:

You’ve made Tallahassee your home, even after graduating from FSU. How did you connect with coaches and why was FSU right for you?

Williams: When I got to the Penn Relays (as a high school competitor), I was recruited by Jackie Richardson. I took a visit. I bonded with some people. There were some Jamaicans here. And I was super excited about that. And also, before my visit, I actually Googled Coach Nobles to see what he has done because you’re about to work with a new coach. So you need to be comfortable. And I saw that he worked with Jonathan Edwards briefly while the British were here for a camp or something. So I thought, ‘If he brushed shoulders with Jonathan Edwards, and Jonathan Edwards is the world record holder for the men’s triple jump, I need to be working with this guy because he might know something or two.’ But the atmosphere of Florida State, I really fell in love with it, walked on campus and it was a beautiful campus. Why not Florida State? One of the other reasons why I picked Florida State is the culture around it, everything is calm, it’s not really a party city. So he felt because Jamaicans were known to be party animals — we love to go out. And the younger me did love to go out. But I realized that in order to get my education at Florida State and become a better athlete, I have to give up something. And that’s partying. And so if I wanted to party, I would have gone to Miami because they recruited me. And Miami is beautiful. It’s an hour and a half or so away from Jamaica. So I could have picked that one but because of the culture in Miami, I didn’t want to get tangled up in that because I knew I wanted to take track and field seriously and I wanted to become a world-class triple jumper.

You said a few years back that you expected as a teenager to run the 100 meters and 200 meters but then moved to the triple jump. What attracted you to the event?

Williams: I think triple jump chose me. I started triple-jumping based off of a bet. I was in high school. And I saw a senior girl doing a triple jump. And as a little freshmen, I was like, ‘I could beat you.’ And somebody was like, ‘Bet, go ahead.’ So I ran a little run down the runway did something, something, I don’t know what it was, but coach Johnson at a time, he was like, ‘Ok, this is something we can we can work with this, we can work with this.’ And then I started training for the triple jump. At the time, I’m not sure if I was triple jumping, it might have been a hop and a something. But what I did was good enough to help me to make the junior teams in 2013 and ’14. And I started getting better and better. And it’s because of those meets that I was able to get my name out there and have coaches from overseas, you know, keep an eye out for me. I started triple jumping based off of trying to show off that I could actually do something.

How challenging are the financial aspects of managing your career in track and field?

Williams: I tell people that I’m a broke track athlete. They think it’s funny but it is true. Track and field is one of those sports where it is not all glitz and glamour. A lot of us do this because we love it because we set out goals that we’re trying to accomplish. I do this because I love it. Thankfully, I’m ranked high enough so when I’m invited to a meet, they pay for hotel, travel and food and all of that. So that takes some pressure off. But I know friends who they have to pay for their own travel, their meals and stuff. And they still come out and make it happen. So track and field is not one of those sports where you can come and get rich unless you’re a sprinter. Field eventers, we are on the struggle bus sometimes but we do it for the love of it. I am able to continue in this sport because of my sponsors, such as Adidas and Now. Thankfully, Titus Sports Academy gave me a home during the pandemic. I really needed somewhere to lift and somewhere to feel comfortable and safe. And I’m super thankful for that. I am still lifting there.

What was your reaction when the Olympics were postponed?

Williams: I was like, ‘OK, I don’t know what’s going on.’ But I need to start moving around because I’ve been eating so much. Eating and jumping do not correlate because fat don’t fly. So when we’re allowed to go outside, I started running more in the mornings. When I heard that the Olympics were canceled, I celebrated a little bit because I had an Achilles injury. It wasn’t bad, but it was bad where a certain part of my training, I had to be super careful. So that gave me the time to let my foot heal. And I was very, very happy about that. So I know all my other track and field friends that were really disappointed about the Olympics being canceled. But for those who were nursing or carrying an injury from the previous year, I think they were happy to give us all time to heal and come back. I shifted my mindset, moved my goals to 2021 and just started doing stuff that were going to help me to stay sane. I had a journal, you write out your thoughts, because there’s so much stuff going on in your head because you’re training and you don’t even know what you’re training for. We’re really just training to stay fit, so we can get ready for 2021.

You will be a three-time Olympian. What does that mean to you and can you appreciate it?

Williams: I am a three-time Olympian. That is awesome. … I set out some goals. I actually told myself I want to be like a four-time, five-time Olympian, I was trying to get to as many Olympic Games as possible. I missed 2008 because I hurt myself at the trials. So if I went to that games, it would have been four and then Paris would have been five (in 2024). As Olympians we get the rings on us like a tattoo. I haven’t gotten my tattoo yet. I’m scared. But when my idea of getting a tattoo came into play, I was like ‘Man, I go to five Games, I could have the five rings, and I could just put the years in the five circles.’ Yeah, that was my tattoo idea. So I don’t know if I’m gonna get it yet. One of the other criteria to getting a tattoo was to medal. That was 2012. I was like, Iif I get the medal, I’ll get my tattoo, getting the rings.’ Nobles would have to get a tattoo too. … He was down. Being a three-time Olympian means a lot, because there’s so many athletes around the world that have tried and tried again and fail. To be able to call myself a three-time Olympian is amazing. I don’t take it lightly. The Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport. To be able to go there three times to show my talent and do what I do best is amazing. In 2012, I finished sixth, in 2016, I finished seventh and that seventh place really hurt because I felt like I was a more seasoned athlete, mature, I was jumping better. But on the day, I let one jump get to my head. I had a really good jump and it was a foul. And instead of regrouping, getting myself together and executing again, I was dwelling on it like, ‘Oh my God, that jump could have gotten me bronze or better than seventh place.’ What happened in 2016, it really taught me how to have a short memory. Something happened, you erase it, you get yourself together and you do it again.