Faced with another harrowing experience in trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, Bahamian O’Neil Williams went out there and ran the race of his life, recording a new personal best in an event that The Bahamas never experiences success internationally.
If ratified, it will go down as a new national record, and Williams said under normal conditions, he has no doubt that he could go faster and possibly qualify for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. It has been an ongoing and tedious journey for him.
Williams ran 2:29.26, finishing 59th overall out of more than 13,000 runners at the TCS Amsterdam Marathon in Amsterdam, Netherlands, a little over a week ago. The winning time was 2:05:09 by 17-year-old Vincent Kipchumba of Kenya. As for Williams’ time, it lowered his previous personal best by about a minute. He ran 2:30:35 at the 35th Ameris Bank Jacksonville Marathon in Jacksonville, Florida, at the end of 2017, which is about four minutes faster than Delroy Boothe’s 18-year national record of 2:34:47.
For the 36-year-old Bahamian, the real story behind the run was what he was able to produce despite receiving setback after setback. His hotel arrangement in Amsterdam went terribly wrong, and he was forced to sleep in the airport for two nights – this after an almost 24-hour journey to Amsterdam from Iten, Kenya.
Despite the experience, Williams lined up to compete for the marathon in Amsterdam, and produced his fastest time ever.
“It was just a crazy experience,” he said. “I planned for this for a while. The preparation was going on continuously from July. It’s just that I experienced some hiccups, and I wasn’t able to perform like I wanted to.”
Williams said after his accommodations fell through in Amsterdam, he went back to the airport and waited for a flight back to Kenya. He has been training out of Iten, Kenya, with some of the world’s best distance runners for the past seven years.
“I was there for two nights,” he said. “I just sat in the airport and waited. It was to the point where I didn’t want to run anymore. I wanted to just quit. My coach talked me through it, and I decided to get to the starting line and just run because I really want to qualify for the Olympics and not let my hard work go down the drain. I trained well and was in really good shape. I feel like I was ready to run a really good time, but my body was tired from being in the airport and sleeping there for two days.”
Williams said, despite the obstacles, he felt he was on pace to run a good time until about the 38-kilometer mark. He still finished in a personal best time, which would likely go down as a new national record once ratified.
“I went out there and was actually top 30 – on pace for about 2:20,” he said. “The fatigue settled in and I felt it, but I continued because I felt I was on pace to run a new personal best and national record time. I ended up breaking the national record, and when I did that, I just sat down and cried because of what I went through. I went through so much and I still ended up breaking the national record under the circumstances.”
Williams said the race was hard from the beginning, and he felt tired from the beginning.
“I just thought about everyone who helped me to get here and I appreciate them. It was a crazy experience and I’m just thankful,” he said. “It makes one wonder of whether to continue training or to stop, but with the Olympics next year, I’m sure I could go out there and run the qualifying time. I am still learning the marathon, but I still went out there and did pretty well against the odds. I feel confident that I am going to qualify for the Olympics. I just have to continue training hard and staying focused and hopefully I get the financial support that I need to get to the next level.”
Williams is calling on the Government of The Bahamas, the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA) and Corporate Bahamas to assist him in accomplishing his goals. No Bahamian has ever qualified for the Olympic Games in any long distance event, much less the marathon. Williams began marathon training about three years ago, an event that is rarely ran by Bahamians, and has experienced nominal success internationally. In the half marathon, he has a couple of top two finishes at The Bahamas Half and Marathon Bahamas.
It’s in the full marathon, though, where he is looking to make his mark. The qualifying standard for the full marathon for the Olympics is 2:11.30, and the cut-off date for qualification is May 31, 2020. Williams is still about 18 minutes off the qualifying time, but he’s confident that under the right conditions, and no setbacks, and with some support, he could get there.
“I’m just looking for the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, the BAAA, and corporate sponsors to come on board and help me in this venture and make 2020 a successful year for me,” said Williams. “It’s been really difficult trying to find sponsorship. I have no doubt that I could qualify for the Olympics but I need assistance to make this goal of mine become reality.”
Williams thanked those who have helped him on this journey to qualification so far, including Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dionisio D’Aguliar, his coach Wilson A. Bain, Deandre King (Indira Dawsoni), Pamela Richardson, Dr. Kathryn Donohue-De Souza, Andre Tilton, Shavaughn Blades, Marcel “Bop” Major, Glenward Bain and Jaycoda Major.
He knows he’s making progress in distance running and is looking forward to get even faster in 2020 and beyond.