Langston Austin

A sprint champion to want to believe in


Wouldn’t American track and field be so much better, goes the mournful refrain, if only there were a sprint champion everyone could actually believe in? Who wasn’t, you know, doped to the gills? Maybe Kendal Williams doesn’t go on to run 9.57. But now that he has won the men’s 100 at the world juniors in Eugene, Oregon, maybe it’s time, too, to celebrate the very sort of young athlete everyone says they really want — but then hardly gives more than a moment to when he does exactly what they say they’re begging for.

In Eugene, Williams defeated favorite Trayvon Bromell in the 100, running 10.21 to Bromell’s 10.28. They then teamed up — along with Jalen Miller and Trentavis Friday, the Eugene 200-meter champion — as the Americans won the 4x100 relay.

“I’ve been waiting all year for my time to come,” Williams said after the 100. “It finally came.”

Kendal Williams on Florida State signing day, flanked by grandfathers James Williams and Langston Austin // photo courtesy Williams family

First things first: of course 10.2 is not going to win anything at the Olympics. These were the juniors. Nonetheless, Kendal Williams has world-class potential. He is about a month shy of his 19th birthday, is about to start at Florida State and is already running 10.2 without lifting weights in high school.

Why no weights? Because he went to Stanton College Preparatory School, one of Jacksonville, Florida’s, most academically renowned institutions, dating to the 1860s, when it began serving the African-American community.

“Kendal went to an academic school,” said his father, Ken. adding a moment later, “They tore down the weight room to put another classroom in.”

Second, of course it’s always dangerous when it comes to the issue of performance-enhancing drugs to know absolutely, positively for sure if someone is clean. In the case of Kendal Williams every shred of evidence would suggest he is, as the old advertising saying goes, 99 and 44/100 percent clean.

Never mind the tests — and, yes, he has been tested, and the tests are clean.

It’s more, way more, than that.

“The kid I raised, the family we have, he would not even consider that,” Ken Williams said, adding, “We have instilled in him the fortitude, the character, whatever it takes to be a man of integrity. The character of a man is instilled by the standards he sets for himself. I love that and I tell that to him all the time.”

Asked how certain he was that Kendall Williams was clean, his coach, James May, said, “I’m 100 percent sure. There are very few kids I can say that about. Mostly god did a remarkable job.”

“He is a good, wholesome young man,” said Terry Isley, who is now a first officer for American Airlines, used to fly for the U.S. Navy — serving, all in, for 27 years — and is a family friend, adding, “The household he comes from is the same cloth. His dad and mom. He has an older brother. The older brother dated the same girl for three or four years before he married her. How often does that happen? I would be shocked. You can never say never. But what I see and know of him, I don’t see that being a problem.”

Kendal Williams’ older brother, Ken, 26, and his wife, Kimberly, are expecting their first child, a boy, in November.

His dad, Ken, and mom, also named Kimberly, have been together for 29 years. They are high school sweethearts.  He is an AT&T project manager; she is an AT&T finance manager.

Ken Williams’ mother -- that is, Kendal Williams' grandmother -- passed away three years ago; Kendal's grandparents had been married for 58 years.

Ken William’s parents met in college at Florida A&M. Kimberly Williams’ parents met in college at Bethune-Cookman.

Both of Kendal Williams’ grandfathers are graduates of Stanton Prep.

“My wife and I both came from two-parent homes and they came from two-parent homes. That’s been important to us,” Ken Williams said. “That’s been important to us, to raise our kids and give them that foundation. You don’t always see that these days.

“There’s a lot to be said for two parents in the home. Hopefully, kids will understand that marriage is you both have to give 100 percent all the time, and it’s work. I’d like to think we helped guide [Kendal] into the person he will become for the next four years.”

Athletic talent runs through the extended family. James Loney, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Rays, is a cousin.

Kendal Williams’ speed was obvious way back. In eighth grade, Isley’s son, Merrick, and Kendal ran a 100; halfway, Merrick was perhaps three or four meters ahead; by the finish, Kendal was three or four meters up.

“A lot of guys can run. But I had never seen anything like that,” said Isley, who played college football. “He ran 10.90-something, 10.92. That wasn’t what impressed me. It was his top-end speed. My wife said, ‘You can still outrun him.’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘His top-end speed is world-class.’ The people around me laughed. I said, ‘I know what I am saying.’ “

May happened to be at the meet that day. To be on May’s team would be a commitment for the Williams family — a 40-mile drive.

“To show you the athleticism, the first time I showed [Kendal] how to long jump, he went 21 feet,” May said. This was March of Kendal's eighth-grade year, he said.

With Kendal, Isley and all of six other kids, May’s team would later go on to win the middle-school state meet.

“I’m always suspect of major leaps,” May said, meaning in times, which is why Kendal Williams’ progressions are further evidence of regular development.

In the 100, for instance, the progressions read like this: 2011 10.46, 2012 10.37, 2013 10.18, 2014 a personal-best 10.21. The 2012 and 2013 times were both wind-aided, both readings slightly above the allowable 2.0 meters per second.

The winning time in Eugene was run into a slight headwind, 0.6 meters per second. No question it is the real deal.

“Most sprinters run better in heat. He ran better in cool weather. He ran a PR in that weather,” May said.

You know what else? After Kendal Williams won the 100 in Eugene, May said, “He said thank you.”