Olympic deadline passes for Williams

The Bahamas’ national record holder forced to miss Brescia Art Marathon

The deadline for qualifying for the marathon events for the Tokyo Olympic Games has come and gone, and Bahamian O’Neil Williams will be left home when the team travels, denied of an opportunity to qualify.

The Bahamian national record holder in the men’s marathon was vying to become the first Bahamian in the history of athletics to qualify for a long distance event at the Olympics. In the men’s marathon, his best time was about 18 minutes short of the qualifying time.

With the deadline for qualifying at May 31, 2021, Williams had one final opportunity to qualify – the 19th running of the Brescia Art Marathon this past Sunday in Brescia, Italy. Williams was registered to compete, but due to a lack of funds, was unable to attend. He said he was only able to obtain $1,000 from a joint contribution from the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) and the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA), and that wouldn’t have been nearly enough to make the trip from his training base in Iten, Kenya, to the race site in Brescia this past weekend.

Williams was forced to pull out.

“It’s disappointing. I simply couldn’t make it due to the financial constraints. I’m not upset – just a bit annoyed right now,” said Williams yesterday. “In these COVID times, where I needed to take two COVID tests, $1,000 just wasn’t going to cut it. The airline ticket alone was $800-plus. It’s disappointing because I was really putting in the work. I was in very good shape. Based on the training sessions that I was having, I feel like I was about to run 2:10-2:12. Even the coaches up here were saying that. It is what it is.

“Distance running isn’t a glamorous event in The Bahamas. It’s not supported, but let someone run 10.5 or 10.6 in the 100, they are placed on subvention and carried to all kind of meets to qualify for bigger meets. Distance athletes always get the crumbs off the table. This year, I was really in tip-top shape. When you’re not in shape, they want to take you everywhere to represent the country, and when you’re in shape, you can’t get any type of support. Had I been placed at least on developmental support from 2019, I wouldn’t have to be hustling around for funds right now. It is what it is and I’m prepared to move forward.”

A distraught Williams said he’s now shifting his focus to the Berlin 

Marathon. The event, cancelled last year due to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, is set for September 26 in Berlin, Germany, this year. The qualifying deadline for the Olympics has passed and it’s unlikely that Williams will give it another run in 2024 for the Paris Olympics. He knows that his competitive window is gradually closing.

“I’m grateful – just looking forward to bigger and better things,” he said. “We’ll see how the rest of the year go, and then make a decision and go from there. There are still some people who believe in me. There are some who are still on board with me, and I’m grateful to them. I just have to keep moving forward. I’m not upset – just in a neutral state right now. Training in the midst of a pandemic and trying to qualify has been a difficult process. In addition to that, I got injured. Thankfully, I was able to bounce back. I’m going to try this race in Berlin and then go from there.”

Williams has been attempting to qualify for the men’s marathon at the Olympics since 2019 but has been faced with a number of challenges – financial and otherwise. Bothered by Achilles tendonitis, he had to pull up in the Marathon Izmir 2021 in Izmir, Turkey, in April, and then took some time off before preparing for the Brescia Art Marathon.

Williams has been beckoning for support from The Bahamas government in the form of subvention since he ventured into Iten, Kenya, to train 10 years ago, but to no avail. He’s been training with some of the best distance runners in the world in Iten, and felt that this year was his year to finally record some fast times and subsequently qualify for the Olympics.

Williams has a personal best national record setting run of 2:29.28, done at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2019. He initially broke Delroy Boothe’s long-standing national record of 2:34.47 at the 35th Ameris Bank Jacksonville Marathon in Jacksonville, Florida, in 2017, running 2:30.35. The qualifying time for the Olympics is 2:11.30.

After spending the past decade in Kenya, Williams was of the belief that the time was now to finally realize his goal of qualifying for the Olympics, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Now 38, the time is winding down on his long-standing career.

The postponed 2020 Summer Olympic Games is set for July 23 to August 8, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan, and the qualifying deadline for the remaining track and field events is June 29. 

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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