You know Tonique Williams as the Bahamian athlete with the charming smile who struck gold in the women’s 400 metres at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and then followed up with the world title in the same event in Helsinki, Finland one year later.
Williams ran her last race in 2006. Athletics, though, is still a big part of her life. The charm is still there, but the retired quarter-miler has a brand new role.
Williams is the Local Organising Committee (LOC) deputy director of Event Media Services for the inaugural IAAF World Relay Championships. On May 24 and 25, Bahamas will host the global event, and it represents a huge opportunity for the athletics powerhouses.
“To be able to experience this level of competition here in Bahamas,” says Williams, “is a dream come true for myself and other athletes. I want my Bahamian people to be able to experience what I experienced. The stadium will be packed. The level the IAAF will bring in terms of a quality event, I want my people to experience that.
“As a working and planning member of the LOC,” she continues, “I’m hearing the word legacy. And it’s legacy in so many ways—800 volunteers, some of our junior athletes taking part in the junior programme…”
Williams says she is gaining valuable experience in her role as deputy director of Event Media Services.
“So are a lot of other planning volunteers. That in itself is a legacy.
“Our stadium is fabulous, and we’re making even more improvements to it, which is a legacy for us.”
Though Bahamas has a population of just 319,000, Williams is not the country’s only Olympic hero.
Sailors Durward Knowles and Cecil Cooke earned Star class gold in Tokyo, Japan in 1964.
At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, Savatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup, Debbie Ferguson and Pauline Davis-Thompson teamed up for women’s 4x100m gold. That quartet and Eldece Clarke-Lewis, who ran in the opening round and semis, became known as the “Golden Girls”.
Nine years after Golden Girl Davis-Thompson finished second in the 200m final in Sydney, she was promoted to gold, a beneficiary of Marion Jones’ doping disqualification.
And at the 2012 London Games, Chris Brown, Demetrius Pinder, Michael Mathieu and Ramon Miller combined for the men’s 4x400m title, earning the moniker “Golden Knights”.
Williams made her global mark in an individual event. As a junior athlete, however, she enjoyed relay success as well.
“I’m kind of a part of the Bahamian (relay) legacy. At Carifta Games, we set the national record, so I experienced it as a younger person. I was at the 2000 Games when the Golden Girls won, and was actually in London when the guys won their gold. This is something I have lived. We are definitely considered a powerhouse.
“I feel honoured,” she continues, “that the IAAF has chosen the Bahamas. I understand why they have. There’s nothing greater than highlighting a country as small as ours doing phenomenal things. Part of what the IAAF wants to do is reach millions, in a way that makes the whole world say ‘wow’. These relay championships will go a very, very long way in helping us to continue our relay tradition.”
As deputy director of Event Media Services, Williams can make a difference as Bahamas bids to make a favourable impression at the global meet.
“From what I would have experienced as an athlete in terms of dealing with the media, I definitely have something to contribute in the years to come, whether it’s in track and field or otherwise.
“There’s something called institutional knowledge, so when (IAAF deputy director of Communications) Anna Legnani would talk about the mixed zone, I’m way ahead of some persons that I work with because I actually know what the mixed zone is (the area where athletes are interviewed by the media). But so much of it is still new. I’m merging what I know and what I’m learning.”
Williams expects Bahamas to host other global events in the future, including the IAAF World Championships.
“Going forward it’s going to be an easier process if opportunities come here to the Bahamas because I don’t think this is going to be our last event.
“We have so many hotels and facilities now. We also have the expertise in terms of persons who know how to plan events such as this. And we have a great location, being very close to the US, and can have international flights in and out. That’s the reason the Bahamas was chosen for the World Relays. When we pull off this event and it’s a success, persons are going to want to come back again and again.”
Williams is devoting a lot of energy to her World Relays role. She still finds time, however, to keep fit. After all, she is an athlete, and her body is used to being finely tuned. An early morning run on the beach gives the former one-lap queen the perfect start to the day.
And in the afternoon, there’s more running on the schedule for Williams. This time, though, she’s at the Thomas A Robinson National Stadium warm-up track watching athletes run, not just for the sake of it but with a coach’s eye.
“Coaching,” Williams explains, “is something I stumbled upon. A young man came to my door, knocked, and said ‘can you help me?’ That’s how I started my club, TWD Athletics. It has been going strong for five years now—a very small group, about 20 kids. I’m one of those coaches who believe in individual attention.”
Among the beneficiaries is quartermiler Doneisha Anderson. Just 13, she is already close to six feet tall, and has a 400m personal best of 55.06 seconds. The former world and Olympic champion could well be grooming a talent that could go on to match or even surpass her own achievements.
For now, though, the primary focus for Williams is on building her part of the World Relay Championship wall.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Trinidad Express writer Kwame Laurence is among a select group of sports journalists chosen to be part of the latest IAAF Day in the Life series, a project featuring some of the Caribbean's best athletes as well as other major players in the sport of track and field. Next Friday, track stars ready to rumble at World Relays.