Apparently we are going to be seeing less of the showboating, and more of the focussed, pius Bernard Williams on the track.
The American sprinter has apparently found meaning in the sport, and is going to go about business in a friendly, less made-for-television manner.
"I've sat back and realized that other people don't understand certain people, and not everybody is going to like what you do or understand what you do," said Williams recently to reporter Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun (story).
"I apologize to anyone that was offended because I meant no harm. None of us meant any harm. We were just four guys out there celebrating, having a good time and getting a gold medal.
"To be honest, I would do it again, because it was something I couldn't control. But I wouldn't take it to the extreme," said Williams. "I would cut it off because I know now to stop it. It was a tough lesson to learn. I never knew how many people were inspired by me until I got home. I found that out immediately after I got off the plane."
One need not think too far back to remember what the American gold medal men's 4x100m relay team did in Sydney, Australia, in the moments following their Olympic victory.
They had just run 37,61 seconds, 0,29 seconds up on silver medal winner Brasil, when Williams, Jon Drummond, Brian Lewis and anchor man, Maurice Greene took a bumbling, very raucous victory lap that carried 10 minutes over to the victory stand as they flexed, posed and wrapped themselves in the American flag.
"The crowd kept cheering us," Williams told Preston, "so we kept giving them more. If they had booed us, we would have stopped. One hundred and ten thousand people booing you gets your attention, but they didn't boo. We even grabbed the Australian flag and ran 50 meters and they cheered wildly. But that whole episode brought us a lot of unwanted attention.
Time, which is meant to heal all wounds, has made Williams more aware of the consequences of showboating and the indellible bad image it can leave. Williams didn't see a problem back then with his manners in Sydney - when he celebrated in a fashion completely many agree were against the spirit of the Olympic Games.
"I wished I would have stopped," said Williams.
But he didn't.
A bare-chested Williams draped himself in an American flag then began flapping it about as though he were a bird - an incident which not only iritated sportswriters, but angered US officials.
Images of the American showboating abound in circles around the world, and provide unnecessary attention to those American sprinters who generally seem to go about their work with professionalism and respect for the sport. American sprinters have received a fair share of press for what many perceive as a lack of respect shown to their competitors following championship victories, something which Williams wants to change.
"There's a professional way to behave and a time for everything," he stated to Preston.
"I'm glad I learned this early in my career, because if I learned it later, it might have been too much to recover from."As you get a little older, you gain a certain maturity, a certain wisdom. Then those questions come up, why did I do that? I know why. At the time, it just seemed the thing to do. But it shouldn't have lasted that long."
Williams says that the celebratory antics were not meant to be disrespectful, rather he was simply displaying the joy a young 22-year-old would show during the biggest moment of his life on the world's largest stage.
Preston has followed Williams a great deal of his career, and interviewed Williams back in June 2001 (read: Williams has goals beyond the finish lines), when Williams had an opportunity to look back on his life during the Olympic Games, and reflect.
"I don't talk much about what happened at the Olympics because there was no intent to be disrespectful," he said, "and I should have been more mindful of others. I look back now and laugh a little because I learned from it. But it's a new year and I'm a new man."
Indeed, Williams is making a concerted effort to live his modest life in peace, and would love the opportunity to be afforded a welcome back into the spotlight a changed man. He took a great turn for the better at the Athens Olympics four years later, where, after the Americans swept the event - Williams finished with the silver (20,01), the trio of knelt for a prayer and to remind each to make a dignified victory lap.
Said Justin Gatlin following the 200m sweep: “We’re going to represent the United States in a good way. We just wanted to go out and perform like gentlemen.”
With Gatlin now wrapped up in a drugs fight, Williams has a very good opportunity to take the focus off of the negative side of the sport there in his country, and shine a brighter light on American sprinting.
Here's wishing the best for Williams' success as he further matures into the stature and public figure of which winners are forged.
Bernhard Williams' portfolio:
- 2004 Olympic 200m silver medalist (20,01 PB)
- 2001 World Outdoor 100m bronze medalist (9,94 PB)
- 2003 U.S. Outdoor 100m champion (10,11)
- 2003 World Outdoor 4x100m relay gold medalist (38,06)
- 2000 Olympic 4x100m relay gold medalist (37,61)
- 2000 NCAA 100m champion (10,03)
- 2000 NCAA 200m bronze medalist (20,28)
- 2000 NCAA 4x100m relay gold medalist (38,35)
- 1999 Pan American Games 100m champion (10,08)
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