Georgia junior Kendell Williams clinched her spot on Team USA in dramatic fashion to highlight the final day of the U.S. Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., on Sunday.
Williams, a native of Marietta, Ga., posted or matched five personal records out of her seven events in the heptathlon, including two on Sunday, to record a school record 6,402 points and finish third. This is the second-best score by a collegian outside of the collegiate season in history (Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 6,718, 1985).
A top-three finish at the Trials assured Williams a trip to Rio de Janeiro on August 12-21 since she had already recorded the Olympic standard in the heptathlon, and then repeated that feat yet over the weekend. Williams’ score easily left her former school record of 6,225 behind.
Barbara Nwaba won the title with 6,494 points and Heather Miller-Koch was second with 6,423 points. Williams was the only collegiate Olympic qualifier and the only collegiate competitor to finish in the top six.
Williams’ Olympic bid in the heptathlon gave the Bulldogs their second official Team USA member (Keturah Orji, triple jump) and gave the program 10 current or former Georgia team members who have qualified for the Olympics.
In addition to Williams, seniors Maicel Uibo (decathlon) and Leontia Kallenou (high jump) and sophomores Keturah Orji (triple jump), Cejhae Greene (sprints) and Karl Saluri (decathlon) complement former Bulldogs Jenny Dahlgren (hammer), Levern Spencer (high jump) and Shaunae Miller (sprints) going to Brazil. Paralympian Jarryd Wallace has also advanced to his second Games, this time in the 100m.
“This is a historic moment for the University of Georgia track and field program,” said Bulldog head coach Petros Kyprianou, who personally coaches seven of the UGA qualifiers, including former Lady Bulldog Levern Spencer. “We have qualified a very large number of current student-athletes to the Games, which is the pinnacle event of our sport. It can’t get better than that following a great NCAA year for these kids. I am very proud of each and every one of them.
“Kendell proved how tough and how solid she is in this event, having to overcome and beat a two-time Olympian in Sharon Day-Monroe to clinch that top three spot. Words can’t explain how proud I am of our current student-athletes who qualified and of the three former Bulldogs who have qualified at this point.
“Georgia is the place to be if you want to make it to the next level. Kendell, Keturah, Uibo, Saluri, Kallenou and Greene can attest to that. Go Dawgs!”
Williams built up to a season-best mark of 20 feet, 4 ¼ inches on her third attempt in the long jump to finish third for 912 points.
In the javelin, Williams wasted little time letting go of a career-long toss of 138-6. This performance ranked eighth in the competition and was good for 710 points.
Williams came from behind to win the 2016 NCAA heptathlon champion in the 800-meter run, marking her second national outdoor title and fifth overall. On Sunday, her back was against the wall yet again going into the final two laps of the competition.
Sitting in second overall behind Nwaba going into the 800m, Williams had to finish within five seconds of two-time Olympian Sharon Day-Monroe, who had a significantly better personal best in the event, to hold off Day-Monroe for the third and final qualifying spot. Miller-Koch’s fastest career time in the 800m nearly guaranteed her the opportunity to slide into second overall (Miller-Koch won with a 2:09.97).
Williams set a target on Day-Monroe’s bright pink jersey early in the race and never let her get out of sight. Day-Monroe surged past the five-second barrier on the final straightaway, but Williams managed to have a burst in the final meters to clock a career-best time of 2:15.31, which was 4.44 seconds behind Day-Monroe.
In the final standings, Williams’ 6,402 just edged Day-Monroe’s 6,385.