Kendal Williams sails to a wind legal 20.89 in the prelims at the 3A State Meet in May.
When Kendal Williams joined the track team in the eighth grade, he had never trained as a runner. He just wanted to stay fit and healthy for the football team. Now just two years later, he is the 3A state champion at 100 and 200 meters, a USATF Junior Olympic champion and an AAU Club national record holder.
When his club coach, James May, first saw Williams run, he could hardly believe his eyes.
"Usually when people tell me how fast someone is, it's usually hyperbole," he said. "With negligible training, he was running mid-22s [in the 200 meter dash]...A few months later, he was running mid-21s...The fact that he was that fast without ever training was the amazing part."
At just 16 years old Williams' best times for the 100 and 200 meter events are now 10.37 and 20.89, respectively.
"People always told me I was fast," Williams said. "But I never expected to be this fast."
Williams didn't fully realize his talent even after his coach pulled him aside after a meet and told him his running had great potential.
"It honestly did not hit me at that exact moment. But probably about the end of last year that I figured out, maybe I can go to the Olympics with this one day," he said.
Williams has his sight set on the 2016 Olympics; Coach May believes he has the natural talent required to make it there. When it comes to an event of that caliber, May said that it takes more than hard training for athletes to have a chance among such competition.
"Generally any person who has the chance to run in the Olympics is a genetic freak," he said. "Kendal is a genetic freak."
In the debate of nature vs. nurture, May is of the opinion that, while anyone can work on becoming faster, the best runners are born hardwired for speed. When Williams first began to run, May was surprised by his natural abilities that usually take years of training to develop.
"I've been coaching youth track since 1985...and I have never met anyone with as much natural talent as Kendal," he said.
"There's a right way to sprint. Kendal pretty much runs close to the right way naturally."
May mentioned specifically Williams' knee-lifts, dorsiflexion and hand-placement. They weren't perfect, but May said they were close enough to be impressive.
In agreement with his coach, Williams believes that some runners are just better by nature -- but there's a catch.
"If you don't work hard, you can have all the talent in the world, but if there's someone working hard then they're going to beat you," he said.
Now that Williams realizes his natural abilities, he is working hard to improve on them during practice with Olympic-sized hopes for his future. After a fantastic season that ranked him the top sophomore in the country in the 200 meter dash, he is one step closer to his dream. Coach May insists that in order to get there, Williams will have to make steady improvements.
Many young athletes and their parents approach May, immediately hoping for huge improvements and predicting great success. In turn, May promotes gradual improvement, and warns against that manner of thinking, saying you never know what's going to happen, even in Williams' case. But he does have his hopes.
"With Kendal, we just want steady progress. He went from mid-21 to low-21 to high-20...He ran a 20.89 in the States this year; Next year we'd like to run a 20.5-something. Then maybe his senior year, drop a couple more tenths off of it," he said.
"Given there's no injuries, given Kendal's commitment to running, you know we'd like to see steady progress. The goal is by his senior year in high school to be the best junior [under 20 years old] runner in the world."
Throughout his startlingly fast rise to success, Williams said that the hard work has been worth it.
"I've really enjoyed it, actually. Meeting new people, getting to travel everywhere; it's a really fun experience," he said.
"Disney (the 2011 AAU National Club Championships) was probably my first really major meet and it was an experience for me. I was used to just seeing a couple athletes going out and running, but at Disney there was a lot of athletes. It was a big change from middle school."
May emphasized the support that Williams' parents have shown, and Williams himself said that friends at school and in the community have shown their support at meets and on Facebook.
To fellow runners, Williams gives simple words of encouragement that echo his coach's philosophy:
"You don't have to be talented to be able to do big things. You have to keep working and be patient, and eventually it'll come."
Video Interview at State
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