London 2012 Olympics: Jesse Williams goes for high jump gold… then he"ll live the high life

Williams goes for high jump gold… then he'll live the high life



22:14 GMT, 6 August 2012

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Jesse Williams is the world high jump champion who hopes to beat Great Britain’s European champion Robbie Grabarz to Olympic gold in London.

The 28-year-old lives life to the full. He nearly didn’t qualify for the Games after coming fourth in the US Olympic trials on his home track in Eugene, Oregon, only making the team because the third-placed athlete, Nick Ross, had not jumped the ‘A’ qualifying standard.

Sportsmail columnist and double Olympic champion Daley Thompson sat down with this ‘social butterfly’ to find out what makes him tick — and how he’s hoping to find more than just a gold medal in London…

Daley Thompson: So, Jesse, explain to me what happened at the US trials.

Jesse Williams: It was very dramatic. I went in with very high expectations but — and I haven’t said this before — I was playing basketball and I rolled my ankle a week before. It wasn’t a bad sprain but it was my take-off foot and it was significant enough to affect my mental side.

Going for gold: Jesse Williams

Going for gold: Jesse Williams

Thompson: Why on earth were you playing basketball a week before the most important date of your life

Williams: I live life to the fullest, man. Last year I played basketball the week before the US champs. I just feel good after it. I’m at a point in my career where I shouldn’t be doing things like that but, at the same time, I think it’s helped me get to where I am. You got to pick your battles, of course. There’s not going to be any basketball before the Games — although I might see LeBron James and see if he’ll shoot around a little bit.

Thompson: At the trials, was that the most pressure you’ve been under in a competition

Williams: Yes, definitely. I feel like this is my year to get things done. Everything’s been going so well — it would have been a disaster for me not to make the Olympic team. That was another thing at the trials: because of the rain I changed who I was. I have to figure out how not to do that. Of course I want great weather in London but I’m expecting torrential downpours, because you have to. We have the technology, these things called spikes on our shoes, and I just need to be able to trust it. If I can do that, nothing’s going to go wrong.

Thompson: How are you at dealing with the run-up to a big competition Some people don’t like being in the Village and seeing all their competitors and stuff.

Williams: I’m kind of a social butterfly and I’m recently single so…

Social butterfly: Williams

Social butterfly: Williams

Thompson: Shall we put that in big letters

Williams: Yes! I look at everything that walks by. I want to enjoy London. I feel like in Beijing I was a little too cooped up. Our training camp was far away and it was boring. I want this to be a memorable experience from start to finish. Of course I aspire to win but I just want to have fun with it.
Thompson: What do you know about our guy, Robbie Grabarz

Williams: I met him a few years ago when we were jumping at Crystal Palace. He’s a really cool guy. He’s European champ now and every time I know he’s jumping I look out for his results. He’s going to be the guy to beat, I think.

Thompson: You think so

Williams: Definitely. He looks unbelievable right now. He’s in his own country and the medal counts from the host country always go up a dramatic amount. He’s going to be ready to jump and that crowd’s going to help him jump high.

Thompson: What kind of height do you think is going to win it Assuming the weather’s good, of course.

Williams: I’m a student of the sport. I know the results from years past from a long time. Atlanta ’96 is definitely the best Olympics the high jump has ever seen and this year could top it. There are a number of guys who could jump 2.40 metres. The Olympic record is 2.39m. Charles Austin’s record isn’t safe, that’s for sure, but I think it’s going to take at least a 2.37m or 2.38m bar to win it. It could even be 2.36m to medal.

Thompson: Robbie’s going to his first Olympics. You went to Beijing four years ago. What kind of things can get in a new guy’s way

Williams: I was just in awe of being an Olympian. I take pride in my country and it was always my goal to make an Olympic team. I feel like I’ve grown up a lot since then. I’m there to win now. Last time I thought I had an outside shot of a medal, but I didn’t even make the finals. I know it’s very realistic that I could bring home the gold medal and, when I’m confident, that’s when I do my best. This is what I’ve been looking forward to since I won the World Championships last year.

Rival: Robbie Grabarz

Rival: Robbie Grabarz

Thompson: Definitely. The Olympics is the greatest place on earth.

Williams: My family is from New Zealand and they’ve always been sports fans, so I grew up watching the Olympic Games from start to finish. I was at the ’84 Olympics. I was six months old and my parents took me. I’ve got pictures of me as a baby in the stadium. The first one I really remember is Barcelona in ’92. The US had some good high jumpers and Javier Sotomayor (who still holds the world record, 2.45m) ended up winning. I was just in awe of those guys.

Thompson: Did that inspire you to become a high jumper

Williams: Yes. But since I was young, I could just jump. I just had this thing for the high jump because I always wanted to test my limits, so it was just the perfect event for me. You feel like you can do anything when you’re jumping well. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s about timing it and doing it at the Games, that’s for sure.